UNCW Biologist Receives Grant from Binational Science Foundation

Friday, November 13, 2015

Susanna Lopez-Legentil, a faculty member in the UNCW Department of Biology and Marine Biology and Center for Marine Science, is the U.S.-led Principal Investigator of a grant awarded by the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF). The organization promotes scientific relations between the U.S. and Israel by supporting collaborative research projects in a wide area of basic and applied scientific fields, for nonprofit purposes.

Lopez-Legentil is working with Noa Shenkar from Tel Aviv University to study microbial symbiosis in introduced ascidians (sea-squirts). UNCW faculty member Patrick Erwin and graduate students James Evans and Stephanie Villalobos are also involved with the project. The team was awarded a total of $150,000 for “Hidden allies: The potential contribution of symbiotic microbes to the ecology and invasive potential of introduced ascidians." The research will be conducted at both UNCW and Tel Aviv University over the next two years.

Lopez-Legentil, who specializes in microbial symbiosis and invasive ecology, and Shenkar, an ascidian taxonomy expert, will seek to understand the potential role of the ascidian microbiome in the host's long-term establishment in a new habitat.

Through this research, which was supported by a grant from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), Jerusalem, Israel, the team will provide a comprehensive analysis of ascidian-microbial interactions in changing environments through the use of advanced molecular tools field ecology and controlled laboratory experiments. It is anticipated that the findings from this project will significantly contribute to the understanding of the role of symbiotic microbes in marine bio-invasion processes.

Lopez-Legentil joined UNCW in 2014 after earning her Ph.D. from the University of Barcelona (Spain) and Perpignan (France). She completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, followed by a Fulbright Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Spain, before completing a Business for Marine Biotechnology Fellowship at UNCW's Center for Marine Science. She has published in more than 55 peer-reviewed journals and has presented at more than 80 national and international meetings. She has also taught at the University of Barcelona.

-- Caroline Cropp