Natalie Sawaya is a PhD student in Dr. Mya Breitbart’s Marine Genomics Lab at the College of Marine Science in the University of South Florida. Natalie’s research focuses on using molecular techniques to study the diversity marine organisms.
Natalie’s current project focuses on studying gokushoviruses in the Red Sea and the Florida Keys. Gokushoviruses are single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) viruses that infect bacteria and are ubiquitous in marine environments, but little is known about their diversity and abundance. This knowledge gap is partly due to the methodological limitations associated with studying ssDNA phages. In order to elucidate Gokishoviruses ecological role Natalie will be looking at their diversity using next generation sequencing and will be quantifying their abundance using a new molecular technique known as the polony method in collaboration with the Lindell Lab.
Natalie has also worked as a part of the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) project which aims to assess the diversity of marine organisms at various marine sanctuaries through environmental DNA (eDNA). Environmental DNA is the DNA left behind by organisms in the water through shedding of cells, scales, mucus and fecal matter. Analyzing eDNA enables a water sample to provide the composition of an entire ecosystem at a higher resolution than visual surveys alone, which will be very useful to determining the health and understanding the dynamics of that ecosystem.