28 Nov 2022

Welcome to our new series highlighting the important work of Early Career Researchers on the TechOceanS project. Today we chat to Katherine Hartle-Mougiou a PhD student with IMBB, Foundation of Research and Technology (FORTH) based in Crete, Greece. Here Katherine tells us about her research interests, her role in TechOceanS, what she views as the key impacts of the project, and her hopes for the future.

Please tell us about your research interests.

I am fascinated by all aspects of marine life with a particular interest in invasive species, their evolutionary dynamics, and novel systems that enable their molecular detection. I also have a keen interest in micro-organism communities within marine animals, such as microbiomes, and how these can alter a host’s evolutionary pathways for invasion success.

What attracted you to marine molecular biology?

Having been brought up in a coastal village in southern Greece and having spent much of my summertime in the sea, I was always intrigued about what lives below the surface and how marine ecosystems function. My curiosity for ocean life led me to pursue degrees in Marine Biology and Ocean Sciences and my work now focuses on developing marine sensing technologies for early detection of invasive species.

What is IMBB-FORTH’s role in TechOceanS project?

The Biosensors team of IMBB-FORTH is leading the Genomics (Theme 1) element of TechOceanS. We are developing a nucleic acid detection platform to identify target organisms and to measure metabolic functions through environmental DNA and RNA, respectively. The Biosensors team brings previous experience in developing hand-held portable biosensing devices that enable gene target detection on site. We use isothermal nucleic acid amplification techniques on sensing platforms and develop molecular assays targeting invasive species and harmful algae.

How did you get involved in the project?

While searching for a PhD project in Crete in 2020, I found an opportunity at the Biosensors team of IMBB-FORTH on the TechOceanS project. I joined the project as a PhD student in March 2021 and have been responsible for the development of the colorimetric LAMP molecular assay targeting invasive lionfish in the Mediterranean.

Can you describe some of the key impacts that you think will result from your activities within the project?

Invasive species cause detrimental effects to marine ecosystems and local economies. My work on this project will provide an early detection system to inform decision-makers for timely population management. Application of this technology can be extended to rare and endangered marine species, and to those of conservation concern.

What are your career hopes for the future?

In the future I would like to be in a researcher role where I can utilise the skills and experience gained from my PhD and ocean sensing. I would like to continue studying non-native species while also sharing information with the general public to raise awareness about our ocean’s health.

Thank you Katherine. We're looking forward to seeing the evolution of these ground-breaking sensors being developed by you and your colleagues in Theme 1.