Claire Ellis

As a research technician in Ginger Armbrust's lab I am fortunate to be involved in a range of diverse projects.  I help graduate students and post-docs investigate questions on marine phytoplankton dynamics and participate in cruises to collect samples that are used for many projects in the lab. 

I began working in the Armbrust lab as a sophomore undergraduate student at UW and am still working on research that began as my senior project on the molecular analysis of Pseudo-nitzschia species.  The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to examine the diversity and distribution of Pseudo-nitzschia species along the East Coast of the United States.  Pseudo-nitzschia is a potentially harmful diatom species that has the ability to produce the biotoxin domoic acid during harmful algae bloom events.  The overall objective of this project is to better understand the occurrence of domoic acid.  Because species of Pseudo-nitzschia are difficult to identfy by microscopy and morphology, we used a DNA fingerprinting technique (ARISA) developed by Kate Hubbard (a former graduate student in our lab) to distinguish between species and strains.  By examining Pseudo-nitzschia communities in samples collected from Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine during May, June, and July of 2008 we are hoping to provide further insight to different water parameters necessary for Pseudo-nitzschia species distributions and the processes that are likely important in the occurrence of domoic acid and harmful algae blooms. 

One of my current projects includes testing culture samples for the presence of domoic acid by using surface plasmon resonance (SPR).  This innovative approach analyzes binding of domoic acid to antibodies immobilized on sensor chips coated with gold surfaces.  The Soelberg lab has developed a compact portable SPR machine that allows us to test samples in the lab and at sea on research cruises. 

I will be continuing my investigative research experience by attending graduate school at UW in the fall. The outstanding mentoring and guidance I received while working in the Armbrust lab contributed to my interest in research, and my training and experiences will contribute to my success as a graduate student.