Student Vignettes

Kristina Deak

About my research:

My research examines how exposure to oil and dispersants impacts the immune system of commercially-relevant, non-model fishes in the Gulf of Mexico. The study required the isolation and characterization of a suite of cytokines, important immune signaling proteins, from red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps). By examining cytokine levels after exposure to toxicants, in conjunction with analysis of traditional biomarkers for oil exposure and immune status, a more accurate assessment of an organism’s health may be possible. All targets will be observed in carefully controlled cell culture dosing experiments, in live fish exposed to oil and dispersants in the laboratory, and in field-caught samples from throughout the Gulf of Mexico, including from the regions of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and the 1979 IXTOX I disaster. Ultimately, the study will quantify the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the immune system of Gulf fishes and will determine if cytokines may be a valuable biomarker for toxicity and health in non-model organisms.


Working with my advisor at USF-CMS has provided me with an incredible amount of time at sea, sometimes more than five weeks per year. It is immensely rewarding to spend so much time away from land, collecting samples and observing the natural habitat and biota of the Gulf. The program was also extremely flexible during my Master’s degree, as it allowed me to keep my Staff Chemist position at Mote Marine Laboratory while I completed my thesis. This flexibility continues, as I will conduct the molecular and genetic analysis of field-caught samples for my Doctorate at the Children’s Research Institute in St Petersburg, Florida. The close proximity of USF-CMS to other renowned scientific institutes and strong working relationship with them has opened countless doors for collaboration and networking opportunities.

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