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Source: University of Waikato

Does the dreaded Didymo bloom because of climate change, new environments or a genetic variant?

The University of Waikato’s Dr Alexis Marshall will investigate these questions thanks to a 2020 Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship from Royal Society Te Apārangi.

Didymo, more commonly known as Rock Snot, produces nuisance growths in freshwater rivers and streams around the globe.

“Historically, Didymo was an inconspicuous background organism found in nutrient-poor Northern Hemisphere rivers. Today, Didymo is considered a globally invasive species, capable of blooming at an unprecedented scale under conditions that would restrict the growth of other species,” says Dr Marshall.

Using a genomic approach, Dr Marshall will identify and characterise the genetic architecture of blooming and non-blooming Didymo collected across its global distribution.

Dr Marshall has already succeeded in assembling a world first draft Didymo reference genome, which will help determine if Didymo blooms occur as the result of adaptation to climate change, a response to introduction to new environments, or the result of an acquired genetic variant.

Professor Bryony James, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, says: “Dr Marshall’s work contributes to the freshwater expertise at the University of Waikato, and this Fellowship will help provide insights into a significant environmental challenge facing New Zealand that is still largely understood.”

Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowships are awarded to outstanding early-career researchers who demonstrate a passion for research, and have a strong sense of the purpose and benefits of research to Aotearoa.

They contribute to supporting recipients to undertake full-time research programmes for two years within New Zealand in any area of research, science and technology, including social sciences and the humanities.

For more information see the Royal Society Te Apārangi announcement.