Islander Doctoral Student Receives Prestigious International Fellowship to Study Deep Sea Microbes

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Since Megan Mullis obtained her bachelor’s degree in marine biology, she knew that she wouldn’t stop until she earned her doctoral degree. Mullis, who is now a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi marine biology Ph.D. student, is achieving her long-term goal while receiving prestigious recognitions in the process. The Islander has recently received one of four $30,000 grants from the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Schlanger fellowship for her collaborative research project titled, “Active microbial community survival in Mariana Forearc sediments.”

“Receiving this fellowship is an honor because it is a nice reminder that hard work can pay off,” said Mullis. “It is great to have funding for a project associated with my name that was developed with dedication and persistence.”

Mullis’ innovative project started one year ago when she became a shore-based participant with the IODP Expedition 366 to the Mariana Forearc, which is a snake-like line of mud volcanoes located near the Mariana Trench. Following the expedition, Mullis and her advisor, Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese, obtained samples from the ocean subsurface where microorganisms manage to survive without oxygen and nutrients – three thousand meters below the ocean surface. Now, thanks to the Schlanger fellowship, Mullis will be able to expand her research and run additional experiments to explore the microbial community’s structure, function and methods for survival within the ocean sediment.

“The deep marine subsurface is one of the largest unexplored biomes on the planet,” shared Mullis. “I want to understand the limits of life in extreme environments and maybe apply the discoveries to other environments.”

Mullis says her project has always been a collaborative one and she couldn’t have done it without the support of her Island University professors. Since she first stepped foot on campus, she has received the guidance and support of her project advisor. Reese, who five months ago motivated the Islander to embark on her first scientific expedition to the North Pond in 2017, expressed her excitement for her student’s newest accomplishment.

“Megan is an exemplary student that rises to every challenge,” said Reese, assistant professor of Microbial Ecology. “As an advisor, this makes me very proud because I know it will open many doors for her. Megan will have a long successful career ahead of her.”  

During the 12-month Schlanger fellowship, Mullis plans to run experiments with the sediment samples and analyze their genetic material through fall 2019. She will also present the initial results of her research to the U.S. Advisory Committee for Scientific Ocean Drilling in New York during summer 2019. The Schlanger fellowship is open to all graduate students enrolled in full-time Ph.D. programs at educational institutions across the country and offers merit-based awards to conduct research related to the IODP.