For the Love of Coral

Journalist: Sara Cooley & Trish Schranck | Editor: Madelene Dailey | Photographer: Madelynn Bruno

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Dr. Cory Krediet is a marine biologist, researcher, and professor at Eckerd College. Born in Oklahoma but raised in the Chicagoland area, Dr. Krediet revealed to me that, even though he’d always had a passion for marine science, when he first started his college career at Drew University, he was not pursuing a marine science track of study.

“I started out my undergrad as a pre-med major. Then I started to take a couple ecological and aquatic courses, and I really found that [marine science] was what I wanted to do.”

He then elaborated on how a study abroad opportunity convinced him to change his major.

“I got to go dive on coral reefs in Egypt during our version of a Winter term.” said Krediet. “So, that kind of sealed the deal. I came back and shifted all my class schedules to ecological classes and fieldwork.”

Upon his acceptance to graduate school at the University of Florida, Dr. Krediet went on to pursue his PhD. Dr. Krediet’s research focused on coral biology, specifically the microbial communities found on corals and diseases they can cause.

“In the early 2000s, disease was still pretty new to coral reef biology.” said Dr. Krediet. “The first way to look at a disease is to look at the symptoms of the coral. Oftentimes, it’s very hard to determine what the actual agent causing the disease might be, so it’s very hard to study pathogenic bacteria that are causing disease on coral because a lot of microbes can’t be cultured in the lab. And if we can’t culture it, then we can’t isolate it, and we can’t study it in isolation.”

In response to the difficulty of maintaining corals in a lab setting, a technique using anemones rather than corals to research microbial interactions was developed by Dr. John Pringle of Stanford University. Dr. Krediet was a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Pringle’s lab, and he brought his mentor’s knowledge (and techniques) to his own lab here at Eckerd.

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In his lab, Dr. Krediet currently has six students feeding, cleaning, propagating, and conducting research using the Aiptasia anemones as his model-system organisms.

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Phillip Coker ’19, one of Dr. Krediet’s research students, explained the two exciting projects the students are preparing for in lab. “We have multiple projects coming up,” said Coker. “For one project, we’re going to take the anemones, treat them with antibiotics that remove their bacteria, and then we’re going to study how those anemones respond when they don’t have any bacteria living on their tissues. Our other project is going to be us taking the different bacteria that we have growing on the anemones, sectioning them off, replicating them, and ultimately creating a library of the bacteria samples and their characteristics to use for further testing and study.”

As of right now, the lab is currently focused on growing their population of anemones and running DNA tests on each strain of bacteria to ensure no cross-contamination of the subjects has occurred. Keeping the strains isolated from one another is key to the project’s current and future success.

Also working in the lab is Sophia MacVittie ’19, Dr. Krediet’s Ford scholar. She’s been working with Dr. Krediet since he arrived at Eckerd last fall, and when she was chosen as a Ford scholar, MacVittie began to explore her passion for corals more indepthly as she designed her own research project.

“Lot’s of people know about the relationship between the zooxanthellae and corals,” said MacVittie. “But there’s actually a whole host of bacteria that are there as well, so what I am doing is putting heat stress on the anemones to find out how that bacterial community is being impacted. I will be analyzing changes just before the point where the anemones would bleach to try to understand if those bacteria are influencing the bleaching process or not.”

As for how Dr. Krediet came to teach at Eckerd, it is a classic story of the power of a small, liberal arts education and the student-professor interactions these schools provide.

“I remember going to the office of one of my professors as an undergrad.” said Dr. Krediet. “He wore clogs and a cardigan sweater, and we would sit in his office while he would make hot cocoa.  We would talk about science, biology, and fieldwork, and that’s something that just doesn’t happen so much at big universities. He [had] such an impact on me that I really wanted to make that kind of impact on students in the future.”

And it appears he has already begun to do just that. When asked what she had learned most from Dr. Krediet, MacVittie’s first words were, “Oh God.” MacVittie chose to do her Ford research with Dr. Krediet because of how supportive and encouraging he was of her to explore her own interests when it came to coral research. She credited Dr. Krediet with encouraging her to be independent and to think for herself when it came to lab work, project design, and making decisions, as well as inspiring her love of corals to grow through her research.

Another one of his research students, Grace Koziol ’18, recalled that Dr. Krediet really impacted her experience at Eckerd by taking her on as, at first, a shadowing intern, and then this semester as a research student. Koziol transferred to Eckerd last fall, and she mentioned how difficult it can be to obtain research experience as a transfer student.

“He was really open and welcoming,” said Koziol. “Which was awesome because it's kind of difficult to research experience when you come in so late. Over the summer, though, I ended up working in a marine genomics lab because I had that experience with him last semester, which has led to me doing even more research now.”

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Exciting opportunities lie ahead in the Krediet lab for both the students and the coral reefs they hope to heal; opportunities that exist because a former pre-med student fell in love with the most diverse marine ecosystem on earth.

“Corals are so important!” said MacVittie. “I love corals because they’re one of those things that when you first look at them, they seem so simplistic, but they are the fundamental basis of an entire ecosystem.”

It’s clear Dr. Krediet has passed on his love of corals to his students. Hopefully these students and Dr. Krediet will inspire the same appreciation for these incredible organisms in you too.

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