Undergraduate Research

Faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students in the Marine and Environmental Biology program investigate a range of topics in marine science and biological oceanography.

MEB program scientists take advantage of research resources  as well as those at the closely affiliated Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.

Fields of study include:

Adaptation, Evolution, and Population Dynamics for Marine Animals

What are the physiological and genetic mechanisms that enable marine organisms to adapt to the dynamic and often extreme environments in the ocean? MEB faculty use a variety of genomic tools and rigorous experimental approaches to answer question such as this and to tease apart the “Nature” and “Nurture” components of evolution, adaptation, and persistence in temperate, polar, and deep sea environments.

Faculty

Suzanne Edmands
Andrew Gracey
Dennis Hedgecock
Donal Manahan

Living Marine Resources

Seafood sustainability and security are fast becoming major environmental issues. Together with the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, MEB faculty seek to promote science-based management and conservation of living marine resources, primarily through an appropriate mix of basic science, applied science and targeted environmental impact research. We address longstanding fundamental questions about the predictability of reproductive success for marine organisms with complex life cycles (the “Recruitment Problem”) and work to enhance the quality, sustainability, and economic efficiency of aquaculture through interdisciplinary work on genetics, physiology, and ecological modeling. 

Faculty

Dennis Hedgecock
Dale Kiefer
Donal Manahan

Marine Microbiology

Marine microbes (viruses, prokaryotes, and protists), though too small to be seen with the unaided eye, comprise the bulk of life in the sea and play significant roles in the cycling of nutrients, minerals, and energy in the ocean. Marine microbes also have great significance for human health and the quality of coastal environments. MEB faculty develop and use a variety of tools and approaches to understand microbial diversity, abundance, and population dynamics as well as the role of microbes in marine ecosystems from the poles to the tropics and from the benthos to the plankton. 

Faculty

Douglas Capone
David Caron
Katrina Edwards
Feixue Fu
Jed Fuhrman
David Hutchins
Myrna Jacobson
Anthony Michaels
Kenneth Nealson
Eric Webb
Wiebke Ziebis

Global Biogeochemical Cycles

The natural cycling of elements, such as nitrogen and carbon, and trace minerals is of critical interest in the debate over global warming and climate change. Learning about the ability of bacteria to promote the absorption of greenhouse gases may shed light on how the oceans might buffer the effects of pollution. MEB faculty, in conjunction with faculty in the Geobiology Program and the Department of Earth Sciences, research the role and importance of marine bacteria in biogeochemical cycles, as well as the response of bacterial populations to various environmental perturbations.

Faculty

Douglas Capone
Feixue Fu
David Hutchins
Anthony Michaels
James Moffett
Kenneth Nealson
Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy

Coastal Water Quality

The majority of people live near an ocean coast and are impacted by the quality of coastal waters. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Los Angeles basin, where 17 million people depend on the Southern California Bight for a variety of goods and services, ranging from recreation to waste disposal, and thus face a variety of environmental quality issues and potential human health hazards. MEB researchers address issues in coastal water quality in an interdisciplinary fashion, using the methods of physical and biological oceanography, remote sensing, microbial ecology, molecular ecology, and environmental genomics. 

Faculty

Dave Caron
Jed Fuhrman
Burt Jones
James Moffett
Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy

Marine Environmental Genomics

Whole genome sequencing and metagenomic analysis of microbes in marine environments have revolutionized the study of marine ecosystems. MEB faculty use genomic tools to explore the ecology and dynamics of a wide range of microbially dominated ecosystems. Microbes control most of the cycling of elements on the planet and comprise biofilms, which are important in many practical settings, such as tooth decay and material corrosion. Genomic approaches reveal what microbes are present in these complex ecosystems, what they are capable of doing, and what part of their potential metabolic machinery is active in the ecosystem. 

Faculty

Jed Fuhrman
John Heidelberg
Karla Heidelberg
Kenneth Nealson
Eric Webb

Geobiology

A number of MEB faculty investigate questions in the field of geobiology, a term that describes the broad mix of science at the interface between the life and earth sciences.

The USC Geobiology and Astrobiology group is an interdisciplinary association of students, post-docs and faculty interested in various topics related to geobiology and astrobiology. As with many interdisciplinary fields, geobiology builds on a broad range of existing interdisciplinary and disciplinary research and draws heavily from the USC College departments of biological sciences and earth sciences.

As such, it includes elements of the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (marine, freshwater, and hypersaline), the lithosphere and the biosphere. Much of this research is microbial, exploring all of the ways that microorganisms influence the geology of the earth and how the earth influences the behavior of microbes. In the modern genomics era, this kind of research has expanded as the relative ease of genetic sequencing has opened up new possibilities for understanding relatedness, physiology and the interactions among organisms.

Scientists in this group explore the many ways that microorganisms influence the earth and that the physical environment influences the behavior of microbes. It covers topics as diverse as the early evolution of life on earth, the role of organisms in controlling corrosion, dental decay, the biofouling of surfaces, the bioremediation of pollutants, the biology and geochemistry of the ocean, the cycling of elements in current and past biospheres, the proliferation of harmful algal blooms and coastal pathogens, and even the search for life on other planets.

Our association with institutions like NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies provide unique opportunities for education and research.

Faculty

Jan Amend
Katrina Edwards
Kenneth Nealson
Wiebke Ziebis

  • Department of Biological Sciences
  • University of Southern California
  • Allan Hancock Foundation Building
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0371