Puerto Nuevo is a small town along the Baja California coastline in Mexico. While conducting early field studies related to her thesis on cone snails, UC Merced graduate student Sabah Ul-Hasan and alumnus of the JGI-UC Merced Genomics Internship Program, first sampled the area in summer 2016. She described the microbial diversity patterns of Puerto Nuevo’s coastal waters and sediment with collaborators at the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education at Ensenada (CICESE) in her first microbial ecology paper in the journal PLoS One.
“Puerto Nuevo is, historically, a fishing town and we know little about its coastal microbial ecology. We also know little about where to collect the California Cone Snail Californiconus californicus (and cone snails in general) outside of mostly anecdotal information,” Ul-Hasan noted. “I spent a good portion of 2016 and all of 2017 looking for C. californicus across the California-Baja coast and spots where they are most abundant are Monterey, San Diego, and Puerto Nuevo.”
Ul-Hasan’s thesis is on cone snails, C. californicus in particular, as a model system for venom-microbe interactions. Cone snail venom has a number of applications, including pain relief. The microbes in cone snails may be involved in venom activity, which is part of a larger consortium Ul-Hasan has started, known as the Initiative for Venom Associated Microbes and Parasites.
Ul-Hasan credits her JGI-UC Merced summer internship for helping lay the foundation for her graduate work. “Being a JGI-UC Merced Intern during the summer of my first year as a Ph.D. student significantly, and positively, influenced the bioinformatics skillset I have today. I didn’t know anything about Principal Component Analysis (PCAs) when I first started, and overall found informatics to be intimidating. That first exposure from great interactions with Dr. Ben Cole and Dr. Axel Visel led to being co-advised by Dr. Tanja Woyke and additionally mentored by members of her lab – especially Dr. Robert Bowers who also greatly contributed to the paper. While I know I still have much to learn, I certainly feel much more advanced in my understandings than I would be at this stage without the internship and mentorship that followed. I especially want to emphasize the inclusive, collaborative working environment I have consistently experienced each visit through my PhD. This environment makes it easy for someone in my position and demographics to ask questions and learn, serving a strong role in my career interests post-Ph.D. in the sciences. “
Ul-Hasan was one of two UC Merced graduate students who participated in the Summer 2015 research experience at the JGI as part of an education program developed between the two institutions to help train the next generation workforce. Co-advised by JGI Microbial Program Head Tanja Woyke and UC Merced Assistant Professor Clarissa Nobile, she defends her dissertation in May.
Since its inception in 2014, more than 20 UC Merced students have contributed to the research of 13 JGI scientists through the JGI-UC Merced Genomics Internship.
Reference: Ul-Hasan S et al. Community ecology across bacteria, archaea and microbial eukaryotes in the sediment and seawater of coastal Puerto Nuevo, Baja California. PLoS One. 2019 Feb 14;14(2):e0212355. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212355. eCollection 2019.