A leading researcher in the fascinating world of microscopic marine invertebrates will deliver a talk on tardigrades to Canadian students Tuesday.

Unity College Professor of Marine Biology Dr. Emma Perry will speak on “Beachcombing of a Different Kind: Searching for Tardigrades,” a talk that begins at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 7, on Prince Edward Island. The event is sponsored by Nature PEI.

Tardigrades, colloquially known as “water bears,” are microscopic animals capable of withstanding some of the most severe environmental conditions. They contain a protein that protects their DNA from radiation damage — a finding with wide potential applications to cellular preservation methods, genomic therapies, and the burgeoning science of transgenics.

But “despite their wide distribution and their importance within ecosystems, we do not know much about tardigrades or where they might be found, especially the marine species,” Perry said.

Impressed by their “ability to survive anything,” Perry recently recorded the first marine tardigrades from Prince Edward Island during field research in the summer of 2016.

The Canadian field work came one year after Perry found a new species of tardigrade — Echiniscoides wyethi — while on a research expedition to Allen Island, Maine. Perry returned to the Unity College campus from Allen Island with sediment samples that undergraduate Marine Biology major Ben Sawtelle ‘17 analyzed.

Noting that there are no records from the eastern coast of Canada, Perry then turned her attention to Prince Edward Island as an ideal location to pilot a systematic study of the intertidal tardigrades that live in the sand. In total, 14 tardigrades were found in the lower intertidal area of two beaches, the first marine tardigrades ever recorded from Prince Edward Island.

Perry has been a Unity College professor for 20 years, primarily teaching Marine Biology and Invertebrate Zoology. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Exeter, United Kingdom, with a senior thesis on the sediment preferences of a burrowing brittle star. She later moved to Florida to complete a Ph.D. on the skeletal formation in sand dollars.

“Dr. Perry is not just a gifted researcher making important international contributions to the study of an important life form,” Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said. “She is an engaging teacher whose work always keeps the students at the forefront, whether classroom or field, offering them unmatched access to real-world environmental sciences.”

Thursday, March 02, 2017