MSc Repetti Sonja

162300 €

Evolving: Microalgal responses to salinity change, and closing the gap between ‘algae’ and society

Tieteellinen tutkimus ja taiteellinen työ / niihin pohjautuva työ | Kolmivuotinen

Climate change calls for adaptation. Organisms must adapt to ecosystems changed by many complex environmental drivers, including shifts in ocean salinity. Humans will also need to adapt their thinking and behaviours to respond to a climate-changed world. Over the next three years, I will use diverse methods and research perspectives to understand how these necessary adaptations might take place, both in the oceans and in our society. The unifying focus of this work is microalgae, which play crucial roles as sources of energy in marine ecosystems and oxygen in our atmosphere, and as raw material for bioproducts valued by humans. I will grow Baltic Sea strains of diatom alga Phaeodactylum tricornutum, which represents a ‘winner’ of climate-change due to its ability to adapt to changing conditions, and cryptophyte alga Rhodomonas marina, a so-called ‘loser’ due to its narrow salinity preferences, along a salinity gradient and study changes in their physical and genetic traits. I will explore their salt-responsive genes further using bioinformatics methods to predict evolutionary forces behind algal responses to salinity change. In parallel with this laboratory work, I will produce a survey study to understand public perceptions of algae before and after interacting with an experiential exhibition (to be held in both Finland and Australia) of 3D microalgal models. The aim of this exhibition is, with both scientistic and artistic methods, to increase knowledge and understanding of marine microalgae and the challenges they face. My interdisciplinary project aims both to understand how algae could adapt to shifts in salinity, as well as how we can act upon existing variation in how people think about algae to promote action for their conservation. This will illuminate the capacity of both marine ecosystems and human society to change at the rate required to survive human-induced climate change.