Coral Reef Research Nets Best Paper Award

Posted: July 23, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Probst

Geoff Cook
PhD student Geoff Cook
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Imagine waking up every morning, putting on your scuba diving gear and heading off to class in the Bahamas or Cayman Islands, where your assignment is to study the coral reefs.

Geoff Cook, a PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, has been studying the coral disease known as “white plague type II” or WPII as part of his dissertation for the past three years.

After attending the annual Eastern Fish Health Workshop for the third year, Cook submitted a paper and won its best student paper competition.

The paper, with the impressive title “A Novel Pattern Recognition Receptor on Nonspecific Cytotoxic Cells Has Bimodal Functions of Membrane Expression and Bactericidal Activity,” was based on his WPII research.

The Eastern Fish Health Workshop, which was held in June in Pennsylvania, attracted student entries with topics ranging from pseudokidney disease in salmonids to the biochemistry of mussel byssus proteins.

“I was shocked when I found out I won the competition,” says Cook. “Although I’ve been attending the Eastern Fish Health Workshop for a few years, you don’t really expect to learn about coral diseases at these meetings. The workshop focuses more on diseases of fish.”

Cook’s presentation focused on a technique called multi tag pyrosequencing. The technique can be used to determine various coral diseases and the bacteria that cause them.

Cook received a plaque and a $200 check in honor of his achievement. His name will be added to a permanent plaque housed at the National Fish Health Research Laboratory in West Virginia, alongside the winner from last year.

According to Cook, coral reefs are often called the rainforest of the ocean, and although they cover less than two percent of the ocean’s bottom, the reefs contain more than 25 percent of all marine life. Thus, they are key to the ocean ecosystem.

Diminished coral reefs are the beginning of a chain reaction, Cook says, “which will cause the ecosystem to falter and lead to a loss of biodiversity.”

After he earns his PhD, Cook hopes to work in the field of biodiversity conservation, with the goal of blending active research and developing policies aimed at preserving coral reef systems.

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