Professors Buckley and Podrabsky

Brad Buckley (Biology)

Many species of fish can survive only narrow range of temperatures, and for some, this means flourishing at freezing temperatures. The Buckley lab investigates physiological responses of marine species to elevated temperatures and other stressors. The lab studies fish from a variety of habitats – one primary area of focus is on the Antarctic notothenoid fish, inhabitants of one of Earth’s coldest environments, possessing a unique biology that holds unexplored scientific secrets. The Buckley Lab works to understand the unusual biological processes these fish use for survival to shed light on the impacts of climate change on marine species and possibly even to help find the cure to certain cancers.

“Off-model species” are unusual species with unmapped genomes. Using genomics-enabled technologies the Buckley Lab works to characterize broad-scale patterns of environmentally controlled gene expression, with the goal of linking these patterns to phenotypic changes at the cellular and organismal level. In adapting to sub-zero waters, Antarctic fish, such as the emerald notothenoid (Trematomus bernacchii), utilize biological processes unique among aquatic life. The research shows how the proteins at work in emerald notothenoids can influence human medicine. He also tracks how even small changes in the climate can have huge impacts on these fish and their surrounding ecosystem.

The Buckley Lab has already uncovered several potential applications for this research. A protein within the emerald notothenoids (C/EBP-δ) has been shown to inhibit certain cell growths when activated by temperature changes. Research suggests that this protein, combined with heat treatments, could shut off the growth of some human cancers without the need for chemotherapy. The same research provides actionable data showing how climate change will affect these fish and the surrounding ecosystems.


Jason Podrabsky (Biology)

While most fish require constant submersion in well-oxygenated water to survive, small cyprinodont fish inhabiting the deserts of southwestern North and northern South America thrive in ephemeral desert pools. The Podrabsky lab studies the how the Annual Killifish (Austrofundulus limnaeus) is able to arrest its embryonic development during the dry seasons of South America. Living in an environment subjected to periodic drought, these fish tolerate extremes in temperature, oxygen, pH, and salinity. Additionally, the embryo stays dormant, without oxygen, in dried up pond mud for three months. When the rains come again, the ponds reform and eggs quickly develop into adulthood with the reintroduction of oxygen.

Dr. Podrabsky and his team have published the first-draft genome for the Killifish species. Additionally, the lab has recently discovered that the molecular pathway related to dormancy is linked to Vitamin D signaling and the regulation of the hormone calcitriol. Understanding how an organism develops in its natural environment at the embryonic level is critical to understanding how organisms evolve, adapt through time, and respond to climate change. Studying the arrest in cell proliferation during the development stage also has implications for cancer therapy. The study of anoxia (the absence of oxygen) and hypoxia (the absence of enough oxygen in the blood to sustain bodily function) in killifish could lead to a better understanding of treatment or therapy for human heart attacks and stroke.