Viruses are the most abundant living organisms on the planet, yet we know very little about them, especially in aquatic environments. Michigan State University’s Joan Rose is partnering with Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to better understand how viruses affect plants, fish and aquatic mammals in human-built and controlled aquariums.
“With greater understanding we can better protect aquatic life,” said Rose, 2016 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate and Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “Our goal is to learn how to provide healthier aquatic environments for animals and plants.”
Rose said researching in a controlled environment, such as an aquarium, provides the perfect conditions to study not only naturally occurring viruses, but also how humans transmit disease as they interact with wildlife and the water environment.
The research is part of Shedd Aquarium’s Microbiome Project, which explores the unique relationships between the fish, animals and plants that share their home with microbes, countless unseen living organisms. This is the world’s first comprehensive look at microbiomes in a human-built and controlled aquatic ecosystem and will change the way the world thinks about water quality and how exhibits are managed to provide optimal health for the animals.
Joining Rose in this research is Jean Pierre Nshimyimana, an MSU postdoctoral researcher and a recipient of the 2017 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Microbiology of the Built Environment Postdoctoral Fellowship. During the next two years, Nshimyimana will use samples collected from Shedd’s Wild Reef exhibit, Sturgeon Touch in the At Home on the Great Lakes exhibit and the Abbott Oceanarium to study viruses in order to improve the design and construction of aquatic systems.
Rose and Nshimyimana will work with William Van Bonn, Shedd vice president of animal health, and other researchers to conduct studies in the Microbiome Project.
“The Shedd Microbiome Project provides an exciting opportunity to learn more about elusive viruses and apply this knowledge to protect the biohealth of the planet,” Rose said.