MISS AURIEL SUMNER-HEMPEL
MISS AURIEL SUMNER-HEMPEL

MISS AURIEL SUMNER-HEMPEL

MSc AMRSB

Research PG

About

Room 220, Zoology building, University of Aberdeen, Tillydrone Ave, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ

 

Biography

I began my PhD in September 2019 and I am focusing on developing a way to assess marine plankton biodiversity and community dynamics using 3rd generation DNA metabarcoding. 

My project focuses on unlocking the diversity of marine plankton communties using next-generation sequencing. Marine plankton respond rapidly to environmental changes caused by anthropogenic factors as well as climate change. The main Genus I am studying is a phytoplankton called Alexandrium which causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisioning (PSP) in humans when consuming shellfish that have bene exposed to these organisms. In Scottish waters the aquaculture industry is worth £1.8 billion, representing over 40% of all food products so an intoxication event can have large economical impacts. 

Many Alexandrium species are morphologically similar and lack distinguishable characteristics; however not all are toxin producers. Being able to identify and differentiate between these species is an important obstacle to overcome to contribute to our understanding of plankton biodiversity and ecosystem function. This is why this research is aiming to develop a new methodology using molecular methods to identify these organisms to a species level. From this work, I hope to then move onto the wider planktonic community and begin to assess zooplankton biodiversity using similar methods. 

This research will contribute to our understanding of plankton biodiversity in Scottish waters and could be used in prediction modelling for bloom events.

Prior to starting my PhD I studied an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology at the university of Portsmouth (2014-2017). My research project was entitled Investigating Karyotype variation & rDNA clusters in Brachidontes exustus clades using PCR analysis and Fluorescent in-situ hybridization. This was funded through an Erasmus+ learning grant. 

Following this I then studied an MSc in applied Aquatic Biology also at the university of Portsmouth (2017-2018) and my thesis focused on answering Is kleptopredation a general strategy in nudibranch-hydroid associations?. This was in collaboration with Queen’s University, Belfast and funded through two grants awarded by Queen's University Marine Laboratory.   

Research

Research Overview

My current research areas of interest are DNA metabarcoding, Marine ecology (mollusc and plankton), next-generation sequencing and Bioinformatics.

Current Research

Scotland’s coastal waters are subject to natural and anthropogenic forces including seasonality, climate change and pollution; all these factors are known to influence Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) occurrence. HABs can have a negative impact on the surrounding environment and put economical pressure on aquaculture industries. In Scottish waters the aquaculture industry is worth £1.8 billion, representing over 40% of all food products. There are also consequences for human health. As marine bivalves are filter feeders, most consume toxic species of phytoplankton indiscriminately. As a result, toxins accumulate within the mollusc and may be consumed by humans with estimates of up to 60,000 intoxication events reported globally each year. Climate change and subsequent changes to marine plankton communities represent a risk to the stability of coastal ecosystems in Scotland and the impact on aquaculture, from toxic-producing phytoplankton, is a major concern. Using traditional morphological approaches for identification of economically and ecologically important phytoplankton species is challenging and time consuming as many are cryptic species but not all produce toxins.

my current research aims to use molecular methods such as 3rd generation sequencing to develop a method for quantifying organism abundance, to create an assay to distinguish between morphologically-similar organisms at a species level and to validate this method for use on wider planktonic communities to assess biodiversity. 

 This research will contribute to our understanding of plankton biodiversity in Scottish waters and could be used in prediction modelling for bloom events.

Collaborations

Currently working in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science.

Funding and Grants

Erasmus+ training grant - £2,500 (2016)

Queen's university Belfast marine laboratory grant (2018)

Quadrat DTP research grant - £11,000 (2019-2023)

CASE partner training grant - £3,000 (2019-2023)