The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their specialized research to the public. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question:
"What are the broader implications of your work, and how does your work impact the public at large?"
Responses were judged for their relevance and clarity. Read below to read Dr. George's winning summary, and learn more about his research.
Helping Mussels Hang On
Photo courtesy of Mark Stone, UW Media Relations
What would you do if the temperature in your house periodically became sweltering hot for days before dropping back to normal? What if the thermostat couldn’t be fixed? Unfortunately for marine mussels, moving isn’t an option, and this may be why they are disappearing on shellfish farms worldwide!
You may not have heard, but mussels are a lot like Spiderman, except underwater. Mussels can attach to almost anything using sticky threads, a superpower that shellfish farmers rely on to get them onto your plate. Farmers cover ropes with baby mussels and hang them in the ocean, where mussels feast on microalgae. The problem is, before farmers can harvest them, mussels are falling off of ropes; it’s becoming increasingly common, and we don’t know why.
To investigate, I partnered with shellfish farms in Washington State to measure the mussel’s habitat. We found that when you grow mussels on ropes, the seawater in mussel clumps can become acidic and have less oxygen than normal, sometimes for hours, even days at a time. In the laboratory, mussel threads exposed to these conditions were easier to pull off of surfaces, but could recover if treated with regular seawater.
Through our partnership, two mussel farms in Washington are now part of a global network that tracks seawater conditions in real-time. Our hope is that this monitoring network can help scientists figure out why the underwater thermostat breaks, while empowering farmers to time harvests so that mussels reliably end up in your linguine.
This summary is in reference to:
Microscale pH and Dissolved Oxygen Fluctuations within Mussel Aggregations and Their Implications for Mussel Attachment and Raft Aquaculture
Journal of Shellfish Research, 38(3): 795-809. 2019.
Matthew N. George, Jessie Andino, Jonathan Huie, Emily Carrington
Dr. Matt George
Nominated by the National Shellfisheries Association
Dr. Matthew N. George is a research scientist whose interests reside at the intersection of biology, engineering, and medicine. A native of Seattle, WA, Matt received a BS in biology from Gonzaga University before serving as a research technician in the Ocean Acidification Environmental Laboratory at the Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL) marine station. While at FHL, Matt developed a passion for biomaterials, eventually motivating the completion of a PhD in biology from the University of Washington under Dr. Emily Carrington.
Matt’s doctoral work focused on the biological glue that marine mussels use to attach to the seafloor, an interdisciplinary project with implications for local ecosystems, the shellfish industry, and the development of novel medical adhesives that can adhere to tissues within the body. After the completion of his degree, Matt accepted a one-year rotation at the Mayo Clinic in the Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine Laboratory, where he worked to develop tissue engineering strategies that support bone and nerve regeneration. Matt is currently a Research Fellow at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics, where his work seeks to understand the progression of diabetes using human stem cell models and CRISPR/cas9 gene-editing.
What drew you to your current research field?
My current research aims to better understand the cellular mechanisms that underlie diabetes. For me, this is a natural extension of my fascination with biomaterials, whose form and function are often impacted by an organism’s environment. In the case of diabetes, the ability of your pancreas to produce insulin is related to a variety of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors, all of which can cause the biology to go haywire. I find this complexity exciting and an opportunity to learn a new skillset that encompasses a genetic engineering toolkit that can help me answer difficult interdisciplinary questions in the future.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
One of the most inspirational people I have had the fortune to work with has been my graduate advisor, Dr. Emily Carrington. I truly value the opportunity I had to learn from her as she overcome both personal and professional hurdles with a grace that I hope to emulate in my own life and career.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
I want the public to understand how much basic science research contributes to our understanding of the world. At its heart, my graduate work sought to address a problem: why are mussels falling off of aquaculture ropes? It would have been impossible for me to even approach this question without a substantial body of work from scientists all over the world going back decades. In many cases, this previous work did not have a direct application to a human-centric problem, but was funded by people and agencies at the time that understood that the more we know about ecosystems around us, the better position are in to preserve them for future generations.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
Pursuing a career in science can be unpredictable, challenging, and at times, frustrating. In my experience, those that are successful have a deep desire to learn new things that drives them forward and keeps their work interesting. Orienting your efforts towards problems that you find meaningful is something that I attempt to do and encourage others to do to ensure their research remains engaging and meaningful.