FEMS Microbes Presentation Prize: Jennifer Matthews
The JAMS11 Symposium took place on the 23rd September 2022 in Sydney, Australia. This in-person conference explored the life and science of microbiology.
Read our interview with Jennifer about her research below:
What is your current position, and what was your scientific journey to get there?
I am currently a Chancellors Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Future Reefs Research group of the Climate Change Cluster at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). My research investigates the metabolic interactions in the coral symbiosis, and how we can use these to help coral reefs to thrive and survive in the face of climate change. My journey has been peppered with work in ecotourism and marine resource management, government and policy development, and having a family, alongside completing a BSc (Hons) at Bath University, MRes at Imperial College London, PhD at Victoria University of Wellington, and finally to UTS on a Human Frontiers Science Program fellowship before starting my current position.”
Could you describe the research your presentation covered?
The work I presented at JAMS11 was on newly discovered metabolic interactions between the coral algal endosymbiont known as Symbiodiniaceae, and associated microbes. Until recently, most research has focused on coral-Symbiodiniaceae interactions given that Symbiodiniaceae provide corals with the majority of nutrients they need to thrive and survive, but Symbiodiniaceae can also live transiently as free-living cells. Despite the ecological importance of phytoplankton-bacteria interactions, these have never been investigated for Symbiodiniaceae, but could be key for the development of new restoration methods to protect reefs. My research uncovered the metabolic exchange between two species of Symbiodiniaceae and two conserved members of the microbial community, revealing for the first time that bacteria are functional symbionts of free-living Symbiodiniaceae.”
What do you hope to focus your research on in the future?
Every reef system on the planet is losing corals faster than they’re naturally replenishing, so it is critical that we find new ways to help restore or protect the remaining corals, to buy time for reef ecosystems until climate action is achieved. One exciting avenue that I am investigating is how we can use our knowledge of metabolic interactions to select nutrients as diagnostic markers or to supplement the health and growth of corals especially when they are at their most vulnerable, such as during early life stages, infections, or when experiencing dramatic environmental changes.
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