Dr. Martina Königer, adjunct assistant professor of biological sciences at Wellesley College in the U.S. spoke on Monday at the Southern Cross Club as a guest lecturer in a recurring Reef Lecture Series, organized by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute.

Dr. Königer’s research and her presentation focused on the physiological and cellular mechanisms that allow plants to deal with light intensities that vary dramatically.

“I have been coming to CCMI for seven years now to teach an introductory tropical biology class for Wellesley College students,” Dr. Königer said in a press release.

“The students take a lecture class in the spring semester at Wellesley College to get prepared for this trip. Being at CCMI provides a unique opportunity to explore both the marine and terrestrial environments of this beautiful island and allows my students to develop their own research ideas.

“They not only explore different aspects of reef biology, but also investigate how plants manage to survive and thrive in this dry and hot environment. Many of the students who have participated in this course have greatly benefitted from this opportunity and have gone on to get PhDs in marine biology or other areas of biology.”

The target species of Dr. Königer’s Monday night presentation were members of the genus Chloroplasta, otherwise known as chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are the tiny organelles within green plants’ cells that carry chlorophyll, which give these plants their bright green color.

Dr. Königer and fellow scientists were able to prove that chloroplasts move within their cell, based upon the amount of light to which they are exposed. Their ability to adapt to shifting light conditions is essential to agriculture and food chains worldwide, particularly in the face of global climate change.

In low light conditions, chloroplasts spread broadly across the cell membrane to maximize benefits from the light available, Dr. Königer said. However, when exposed to high or extreme light conditions, they experience stress, and chloroplasts bunch-up along the edges of the cell membrane. This bunching-up action allows the chloroplasts to angle themselves away from the intense light source so as to minimize the impact of high light stress or a potential sun burn.

Comparing the much more understood ecology of terrestrial plant species with the ill-understood ecology of marine plant species could potentially spur amazing discoveries, she said.

CCMI’s president and director of research, Dr. Carrie Manfrino said, “Scientific discoveries have advanced society through the ages. Communicating science to society is a responsibility of every scientist who has made important discoveries. At CCMI, communicating our research is an opportunity to educate the general public on how we are intricately connected with the natural world around us.”

Dr. Königer said it was a pleasure to share some of her research interests and findings with the CCMI staff, her students and guests at the Southern Cross.

“Educating the general public about scientific concepts and, maybe even more importantly, about how science is done, is a very rewarding experience,” she added.

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