Coral Researcher Loretta Roberson Joins Marine Biological Laboratory

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WOODS HOLE, Mass.— Loretta Roberson has been appointed to the position of Associate Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). Roberson’s research aims for a better understanding of coral bleaching and growth by studying the gene activity of Caribbean coral. She comes to the MBL from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), where she was Director of the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainability and Director of the Puerto Rico Center for Environmental Neuroscience on the UPR Río Piedras campus.

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Loretta Roberson holds the local hard coral, Astrangia poculata, collected near Woods Hole and maintained in the MBL’s Marine Resources Center. Credit: Tom Kleindinst

Roberson’s recruitment is part of an investment by the MBL in a new strategic focus on marine organismal biology and discovery, including development of new model organisms to advance fundamental biology and biomedical research, as well as educational initiatives. Roberson hopes to develop a coral model organism endeavor at the MBL.

Roberson’s research interests include anthropogenic impacts on coastal marine communities; physiology, ecology, and evolution of eelgrass and coral reef communities; and the ecology and evolution of RNA editing in eelgrass and algae.

With colleagues, Roberson recently published an “atlas” of gene activity (the transcriptome) for a notably hardy Caribbean coral, Porites astreoides, during three phases of its life cycle. The Porites transcriptome can help researchers determine why and how this species resists environmental stress—even when the rest of a reef dies—and assist in the development of more resilient corals.

“It’s part of the vision of the Marine Biological Laboratory to make resources available to the scientific community for studying nontraditional model systems, such as Porites astreoides,” Roberson says.

In Woods Hole, Roberson is growing Porites in the MBL’s Marine Resources Center along with Astrangia poculata, a common shallow-water coral species that ranges from Cape Cod, Mass., to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

Roberson received her Ph.D. in marine biomechanics from Stanford University. Prior to her current appointment, she was a MBL Fellow and MBL Whitman Scientist.

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The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.