Disease-hunting scientist: Dr Laurie Richardson and black band disease in coral


Just finished reading a great excerpt from a book called ‘Disease-hunting scientist’ by a Canadian author called Edward Willett. The scientist in question is Dr Laurie Richardson from Florida International University, who is well known for her work on ‘black band disease’ (see image above) on Caribbean coral reefs. I’ve never read Willett’s work before (and can’t vouch for the book itself), but I’ve long respected Dr Richardson’s research into black band microbial communities, and the ‘interview’ offered a few intriguing insights. More below:

At 287,231 square kilometers, coral reefs are less than a tenth of a percent of the total ocean floor. But they support more than a million species of marine life. They are also dying, from pollution, overfishing—and black-band disease, among others.

Dr. Richardson started her career researching “microbial mats,” communities of microbes that live in the sulfur-rich water of hot springs. She then worked in Wisconsin on a NASA project that used satellite data in the study of aquatic ecosystems. That led to three years at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California learning remote sensing and image processing, which in turn landed her in Florida with a NASA-funded grant to work on algal pigments and remote sensing.

One day, while she was diving for fun on a coral reef, somebody showed her an example of black-band disease-and she immediately recognized it as similar to the microbial communities she’d studied in hot-spring outflows.

She looked in the scientific literature, and no one else had made that connection. And that was how the research she’s now been doing for more than 15 years began. (Read more)

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