Current Post Doctoral Research

           Tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) may act as a molecular switch and help determine how corals react to environmental stress, including heat stress. I hypothesize that “front-loading” of TNFR expression in corals that have historically been exposed to stressful environmental conditions,  is indicative of resilience in corals. TNFR has the potential to be a “coral health biomarker.” 
          The figure to the right, is based on work that I am currently doing in the Palumbi lab. It shows a subset of genes with expression values that are correlated with the expression of TNFR. We can extrapolate that the function of this gene is involved in many important cellular processes in corals; including immunity, apoptosis and combating environmental stress. I am currently testing the role of different contigs of TNFR in response to heat stress in the coral Acropora hyacinthus from American Samoa.

PhD Research

I studied the wound healing process in cnidarians. Using homology-based searches of genomic and transcriptomic datasets, I identified putative wound-healing genes in the coral Pocillopora damicornis, and the sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. I created a stress enriched transcriptome for Pocillopora damicornis which is publically available at The figure to the right depicts the database structure which was used to create PocilloporaBase (Traylor-Knowles, et al, 2011). 

I also characterized the molecular evolution and wound-induced expression of the transcription factor Grainyhead (Grh), a gene required for the reestablishment of the epithelial barrier following wounding in triploblasts. I discovered that the motif architecture of the GRH protein was established prior to the evolutionary split between cnidarians and triploblastic animals (Traylor-Knowles, et al, 2010). The figure to the right is the phylogeny of the LSF/GRH gene family. 

Future Research Goals

I want to utilize the tools of genomics and cell biology to better inform conservation efforts. As more resources become available, mapping and exploring the cellular pathways involved in coral immunity, stress response, wound healing and resilience are becoming more tractable.  Using genomics as a discovery tool, genes and proteins can be targeted, and further investigation using molecular techniques can be done. I believe that through work like this, "biomarkers" and diagnostics can be developed to better understand the health of coral reefs.