COSAM News Articles 2022 September Auburn immunologist and evolutionary biologist collaborates with London researcher

Auburn immunologist and evolutionary biologist collaborates with London researcher

Published: 09/20/2022

By: Maria Gebhardt

Kate Buckley, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is the recipient of a $910,860 National Science Foundation, or NSF, award to learn more about immunology with echinoderms, or sea urchins and sea stars. The project, Regulatory control of the system-wide innate immune response in marine invertebrates, is funded by the Division of Integrative Organismal Systems and Direct for Biological Sciences within NSF.

Buckley is collaborating Paola Oliveri, a professor of developmental and evolutionary biology, from the University College of London, or UCL, who also received research funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, or BBSRC, a part of UK Research and Innovation. Oliveri focuses on the development and skeletons of sea urchins, which complements Buckley’s work focusing on immunology.

Buckley and her team in the Buckley Lab will start by conducting fundamental research on these sea urchins and sea stars to define pathogens and cells involved in immune responses.

The Buckley Lab in front of the Rouse Life Sciences Building.

The Buckley Lab in front of the Rouse Life Sciences Building.

There are more than 8,000 species of echinoderms, and sea urchins can live for more than 50 years—some even longer.

“Echinoderms are more closely related to human than most people think,” Buckley said. “More so than common insects.”

However, research has not been widely conducted and documented on echinoderms.

“Our massive sequencing efforts will create a starting point at the genetic level to help us understand how their immune cells work,” Buckley added.

 Larva of the purple sea urchin.

Larva of the purple sea urchin.

The single-cell sequencing will allow the researchers to unlock genomic and transcriptome information about the functions of the cells of these sea creatures.

“Our research will help share insight on how organisms live in the microbe-rich environment of the ocean,” Buckley said.

Buckley has eight graduate students and five undergraduate students in her lab in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM.

Her lab will be tracking how the cells move and respond through microscopy since the larvae of echinoderms are about the width of just a single human hair.

Both researchers will meet in Sweden once a year to conduct fieldwork locating more echinoderms and sharing their latest findings.

Buckley will also participate in events hosted by the COSAM Office of Outreach to share the broader impact of her research and inspire future scientists to learn more about STEM-related fields.

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