Biology & Marine Biology

Faculty & Staff

Blake Ushijima, Assistant Professor

Ph.D., Microbiology, University id Hawai'i at Mãnoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822
B.S., Biology, University id Hawai'i at Mãnoa, Honolulu, HI, 96822
Friday Hall 2024A | (910) 962-0641
601 S. College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403-5915

 Research Interests:

We work on exploratory and applied projects focused on the host-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions contributing to the health of marine invertebrates. Our research focuses on the molecular and genetic basis for infections by bacterial pathogens and host protection by beneficial microbes (e.g. probiotics). By understanding the pathogenic and beneficial bacteria associated with marine invertebrates, we can then develop new technologies to improve the health of environments like coral reefs.

The current focus of the lab is on stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), a devastating coral disease that is decimating reefs across the Caribbean. Along with collaborators at various Universities, government agencies, and the Smithsonian Institute, we are investigating the cause(s) of SCTLD as well as the development of probiotics to treat diseased corals. Pathogenic bacteria are involved with the progression of SCTLD, however, it is unclear what initiates infection. Additionally, this disease appears to spread through the water column, but it is unknown what mechanisms allow for transmission between coral colonies. In all, we hope to better understand SCTLD with the end goal of improving our current treatment strategies to slow or stop the spread of this disease before it can damage additional reefs.

A secondary focus is on studying the invertebrate pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus. This bacterium is a primary cause of disease and mortality for corals, urchins, clams, scallops, mussels, oysters, and potentially a variety of other marine invertebrates. This pathogen has also been implicated in coinfections that exacerbate the effects of SCTLD. We seek to understand the molecular pathogenesis of this pathogen, while we are currently developing directed treatment and diagnostic tools to mitigate the effects from this bacterium. Specific areas of interests include the regulatory pathways that link environmental signals to virulence factor expression, the role of chemotaxis in infection, as well as the toxins and secretion systems used by V. coralliilyticus.

Select publications:

  A full list is available at:
  1. Aeby GS, Ushijima B, Campbell JE, Jones S, Williams GJ, Meyer JL, Häse C, Paul VJ. 2019. Pathogenesis of a tissue loss disease affecting multiple species of corals along the Florida Reef Tract. Frontiers in Marine Science 6.
  2. Meyer JL, Castellanos-Gell J, Aeby GS, Häse C, Ushijima B, Paul VJ. 2019. Microbial community shifts associated with the ongoing stony coral tissue loss disease outbreak on the Florida Reef Tract. Frontiers in Microbiology 10.
  3. Guillemette R, Ushijima B, Jalan M, Azam F. 2020. Insight into the resilience and susceptibility of marine bacteria to T6SS attack by Vibrio cholerae and Vibrio coralliilyticus. PLoS ONE 15:19.
  4. Ushijima B, Häse CC. 2018. The influence of chemotaxis and swimming patterns on the virulence of the coral pathogen Vibrio coralliilyticus. Journal of bacteriology JB. 00791-17.
  5. Ushijima B, Videau P, Poscablo D, Stengel JW, Beurmann S, Burger AH, Aeby GS, Callahan SM. 2016. Mutation of the toxR or mshA genes from Vibrio coralliilyticus strain OCN014 reduces infection of the coral Acropora cytherea. Environmental Microbiology 18:4055–4067.