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ODU Biologist Awarded $4.6 Million National Science Foundation Grant

By Noell Saunders

Kent Carpenter, a marine biologist and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University, was recently awarded $4.6 million from the National Science Foundation to further develop research on vulnerable marine fish populations that have been greatly impacted by environmental degradation.

The project is part of the National Science Foundation Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE), an innovative program that promotes international collaboration among scientists to address complex, multi-disciplinary problems.

Carpenter, the project's principal investigator, is one of a few scientists in the United States who have received a PIRE award twice. From hundreds of grant proposals, Old Dominion was chosen to be a lead institution. Collaborators include Daniel Barshis, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences; scientists from Rutgers University, Texas A&M and Arizona State, as well as researchers from the Philippines.

"This is a very important way of understanding the world under broader context rather than just the United States," Carpenter said. "It allows us to take advantage of the knowledge of foreign scientists and learn more about what they know while discovering things in their countries that aren't available in ours."

Much of the research is being conducted in the Philippines, which has the highest concentration of marine species of any place on Earth. Carpenter's research includes testing the genetic makeup of fish specimens by using advanced methods to extract DNA.

He will first test some of the 90,000 specimens, now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, that were gathered more than a century ago by the USS Albatross, a research ship sent by the United States when it took control of the Philippines after the Spanish American War in 1898. Carpenter will then return to the locations where they were collected, gather new specimens and compare the DNA.

"This is a type of genomic time travel that will help us understand the impacts that we had on these valuable resources over many years of intense exploitation and habitat degradation," he said.

The research grant will also enable undergraduates and graduate students to take classes while conducting research for several months in the Philippines as part of summer education programs.

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