SMM 2015 (continued)

It’s been an incredible few days here in San Francisco — meeting marine mammal researchers from around the globe and hearing talks on wide-ranging topics, some familiar and some very new.

I’ve learned there’s a “whale temple” in Thailand where fishermen bring the remains of stranded cetaceans for worship (Long Vu, Vietnam Marine Mammal Network).

We’ve heard experts discuss climate change’s effects on the Jet Stream (Jennifer Francis, Rutgers University) and the implications for marine mammal populations (Dr. Sue Moore, NOAA).

There was an entire session dedicated to sea otter research led by Dr. Tim Tinker (UCSC) and Dr. Jim Estes (UCSC), with presentations on a huge array of topics including diving behaviors (Joseph Tomoleoni, USGS), variance in reproductive success (Max Tarjan, UCSC), tactile sensing abilities (Sarah Macay Strobel, USGS/UCSC), and more!

I’ve learned about the genetics of scent in fur seals (Martin Stoffel, Bielefeld University) and the difficulties of SNP detection in the fur seal draft genome (Emily Humble, Bielefeld University).

I’ve had fantastic talks with otter researchers about the uses of isotopes from ancient otter bones for understanding changes in diet over time (Emma Elliott Smith, UNM) and gotten amazing advice about how to use ancient otter samples in my own genomic research (Dr. Shawn Larson, Seattle Aquarium).

My own talk on the whale gut microbiome was a blast — I got insightful questions and talked to interested researchers extensively afterward. Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to a last wander through the posters, more genetics talks, and a big Society for Marine Mammalogy “Birthday Bash” at SF City Hall!


Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference

This week I am attending the Society for Marine Mammalogy biennial conference in San Francisco. Around 3,000 marine mammal researchers have descended on the city for a week of workshops, talks, posters and get-togethers. I’ll be speaking on Thursday about our work on the whale gut microbiome.

Today I saw a variety of fascinating talks ranging from ancient whale dietary transitions (Robert Gooddall), to the use of DNA sequencing to determine prey biomass in pinniped feces (Austen Thomas), to the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on bottlenose dolphin population dynamics and immune function (Lori Schwacke; Teri Rowles; Sylvain De Guise), to the use of gene expression data in understanding factors affecting population decline in sea otters (Elizabeth Bowen).

More updates to come during the week.

Characterizing Dolphin Gene Expression with RNA-Seq

In order to examine the effects of chronic exposure to pollutants on the dolphin transcriptome, I am working to characterize the skin transcriptome of long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis) in the Southern California Bight using high throughput sequencing of RNA (RNA-Seq). I am seeking to understand seasonal variation in gene expression and to determine how accumulated heavy metals influence expression patterns. RNA is extracted from dart biopsies provided by Dr. Nicholas Kellar (NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center), converted to cDNA and sequenced on an Illumina Hi-Seq sequencer. Concentrations of RNA are quantified at UC Davis’ CAHFS.

See other Current Projects

SCaLE Genetics & Genomics Meeting

I visited UC Riverside’s beautiful campus this Saturday (4/11) for the Southern California Evolutionary Genetics & Genomics meeting. It was a fantastic venue for graduate students, post-docs and faculty to chat informally and to hear some fascinating talks from across evolutionary genetics. I heartily recommend this (free!) meeting to any evolutionary geneticists in SoCal.

UC Riverside

I was particularly interested in Dr. Melissa Sayres talk about a dip in male Y chromosomal diversity around the time agriculture was introduced into different human populations, which could possibly be explained by an increase in variance of male reproductive success due to a more stratified society.



I am so excited to say that I’ve received an NSF Pre-doc (GRFP) fellowship, giving me three years of funding! I am developing a sea otter genomics project, including sequencing the Enhydra lutris genome de novo and using low-coverage resequencing to gather SNP data across the species’ range. I plan to estimate the species’ demographic history using a coalescent approach and determine whether certain populations have accumulated deleterious alleles after the extreme population bottleneck due to the fur trade.