Hooked on the ocean – Elisha Wood-Charlson joins Real Scientists!

EWC_labThis week we’re excited to have Elisha M Wood-Charlson (@ElishaMariePhD) curating Real Scientists! Elisha is the Data/Research Communications Program Manager for the Simons Collaboration on Ocean Processes and Ecology (SCOPE). Elisha has a PhD in Marine Science and has spent many years looking at the little things (microbes and viruses) that make marine ecosystems tick. She also enjoys to exploring new ways to better communicate science, from increasing science literacy in local schools to managing communications across multidisciplinary collaborations. Currently, she is at sea on the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) R/V Falkor on a research cruise on Eddy Exploration and Ecosystem Dynamics.

We’re going to let Elisha tell you more about herself in her own words:

I was fortunate enough to have my mom as a role model. She was a school teacher with a background in science, who loved being outside – hiking, camping, etc. I had a lot of energy and curiosity as a kid, so outside was the best place set me free. And, that seems to still be true as an adult.

I am currently on the research vessel Falkor in the Pacific Ocean north of Maui, Hawai’i! Marine science (marine biology, oceanography) was one of my biggest mysteries as a kid. The first time I saw the ocean, I wanted to know what was under the surface. It was easy to scramble over rocks, climb trees, dig holes, but the ocean was an entirely new challenge. Once I got to university and took a diving class, I was hooked. Today, I am still in this field because the ocean is still full of mysteries, in addition to being amazing and beautiful. What is not to love!?

Microbial ecology is about understanding the complex interactions of microbes, within the community and with their surrounding environment. Coming into this field with a symbiosis (multicelular host – microbe) background, it has been fascinating to explore the complexity of interactions in microbial communities. These interactions range from classical cell-cell mutualisms to community-wide metabolic networks. I focus on the role of viruses in these systems, with a particular interest in viruses that have acquired genetic material from their hosts that result in increased fitness. For example, many cyanophages (viruses that infect cyanobacteria) carry host photosynthesis genes, which are expressed during infection and replication. These proteins function in the host photosystem and enable continued energy production after the host genome has been degraded. More cellular energy, more viral particles produced per cell. Ingenious!

The open ocean is a vast, making up the largest ecosystem on the planet. Numerous organisms call this area home, but most of its inhabitants are microbes, and they are responsible for maintaining the health of our oceans, and our planet. They produce 50% of the oxygen we breath, fix vast amounts of CO2, which can be sequestered to the deep ocean as a carbon sink, and they are at the core of the food web. However, they are difficult to study, and many mysteries remain. How do these microbial communities achieve all of these roles? How will they change as the oceans change? Can we parameterize these ecosystem functions (on the microscale) in a way that will allow us to improve predictions by global ocean and climate models?

The ideal day off… fortunately, I live in Hawai’i so every day off is pretty ideal. Diving, swimming, hiking, trail running – basically being outside exploring. There is also great food, fun music, and much aloha spirit to enjoy.EWC_field


Please welcome Elisha to Real Scientists!

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