Do you ever wonder what gives coral reefs their vibrant color? Their bright hues come from the animals living inside their cells. Imagine if you were the color of the your gut microbes! Corals’ gut microbes generate the energy needed to grow magnificent reef structures. In return, coral hosts provide shelter (symbiosis). But, how many of us hear “coral reef ” and think “vast sea of white?” These “white” reefs are actually the bleached skeleton of a community once teeming with life; all that remains after their colorful symbionts flee. Climate change is the major contributor of coral bleaching. In fact, scientists predict that this year’s El Nino will kill over 3 million acres of coral reefs.
As a second year postdoc in the Genetics Department at Stanford, Lauren is attempting to understand the molecular mechanisms of symbiosis, and what goes wrong when corals bleach. Coral reefs’ slow growth and hard skeletons make them less-than-ideal for molecular experiments, and federal regulations on coral sampling makes studying bleaching very difficult. Therefore, their cousin, the sea anemone Aiptasia, is used to study mechanisms of bleaching in the laboratory. Lauren is specifically working on developing genetic tools to better understand symbiosis in Aiptasia.
Lauren’s passion for genetics began early after extracting a banana’s DNA at a middle-school Girls’ Science Day. This curiosity drove her to study genomics and molecular genetics as an undergrad at Michigan State University, and continue studying mechanisms of DNA repair and molecular genetics as a PhD at The City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center & Beckman Research Institute in Southern California.
Lauren’s affection for genetics is matched by her love for communication and community. When she is not in the lab, you can find her practicing effective communication techniques with Stanford Leaders in Communication, cutting a rug on the dancefloor (salsa, swing, waltz), or playing soccer.