Evolutionary Biologist Selected as Simons Early Career Investigator

The Simons Foundation has awarded $540,000 to University of Arkansas biologist Andrew Alverson to study the evolution of microscopic marine algae in the Baltic Sea.

Alverson is one of four researchers across the United States selected as a 2016 Simons Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution.

Andrew Alverson looks at marine diatoms growing in a bioreactor in his lab. | Russell Cothren, University of Arkansas

Andrew Alverson looks at marine diatoms growing in a bioreactor in his lab. | Russell Cothren, University of Arkansas

Alverson studies diatoms, one of the world’s most diverse groups of microalgae, also known as phytoplankton. Diatoms are single-celled algae that are found in oceans, lakes and rivers – practically anywhere there is sunlight and moisture. They are prolific photosynthesizers, producing one-fifth of the world’s oxygen, and are a key primary producer for ocean food webs.

For the Simons grant, Alverson will focus on a single diatom species – Skeletonema marinoi – which began life in the ocean and was carried inland when the Baltic Sea was formed following glacial erosion some 10,000 years ago. The sea is brackish, meaning it is saltier than fresh water but not as salty as seawater.

“The Baltic Sea is interesting because of its young age and intermediate, brackish habitat,”Alverson said. “Working with collaborators at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, we’ll determine how this diatom adapted to low salinity in such a short period of time.”

Alverson is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. His research is also currently funded by the National Science Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and Arkansas Biosciences Institute.

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