BIOTEC’s researcher is once again honored with the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science awards by L’Oreal (Thailand) for her extraordinary work contributing to the sustainable development of the country.
Dr. Wirulda Pootakham, Head of Genomic Research Lab, is the latest recipient of the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award 2018 in the field of Life Sciences. Her work entitled “The elucidation of thermal stress response and the assessment of genetic diversity of corals in Thai waters” seeks to make an impact in sustainable marine ecosystem conservation and restoration.
Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, supporting biodiversity and serving as habitats to millions of marine species. Unfortunately, the devastating effect of rising seawater temperature due to global warming causes severe bleaching of coral reefs around the world. Even a slight elevation in ocean temperature (1-2 degrees Celsius) can cause a massive bleaching event, resulting in the death of the coral reefs which has catastrophic impact on marine ecosystems. The elucidation of thermal stress response and the assessment of genetic diversity in corals and their associated symbionts will lead to a discovery beneficial to future coral conservation and restoration programs. To evaluate the degree of genetic diversity in corals, Dr. Pootakham led the team to sequence DNA barcodes (internal transcribed spacer; ITS) from the collected samples from various locations in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea. These DNA barcodes were subsequently used to assess the level of coral genetic diversity. In addition, the differences in gene expression between heat-tolerant and heat-sensitive coral colonies during thermal stress were compared. Basic knowledge obtained from these studies will be valuable in predicting the survival rate of coral reefs in Thai waters as they encounter fluctuating environments in the future. Molecular markers associated with heat tolerance can be used by the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources to select heat-tolerant colonies and propagate them for coral reef restoration programs, which is part of a larger sustainable marine ecosystem conservation and restoration effort.
In Thailand, the fellowships were established in 1997 by L’Oreal and UNESCO. Every year the program offers a THB 250,000 grant to each selected researcher aged between 25-40 years across two categories, Life Sciences and Physical Sciences.
Dr. Pootakham becomes the 11th BIOTEC researcher selected for this prestigious award. Her predecessors include Dr. Ubolsree Leartsakulpanich, Mrs. Wansika Kiatpathomchai, Dr. Lily Eurwilaichitr, Dr. Kallaya Dangtip, Dr. Kobkul Laoteng, Dr. Nitsara Karoonuthaisiri, Dr. Saengchan Senapin, Dr. Sansanee Noisakran, Dr. Jittima Piriyapongsa and Dr. Taridaporn Buajarern who were honored in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively. In addition, Dr. Chawanee Thongpanchang, was named UNESCO-L'ORÉAL International Fellow in 2007.
Posted on 8 October 2018.