October 2, 2013

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Kelly Pollack Wittwer Article Studies Impact of Emerging Contaminant on Coral Symbionts

SANTA BARBARA, Ca. — Geosyntec Consultants is pleased to announce that Kelly Pollack Wittwer, PhD, along with Kimberly Balazs and Dr. Oladele Ogunseitan at the University of California, Irvine, co-authored the March 2009 Environmental Science & Technology article "Proteomic Assessment of Caffeine Effects on Coral Symbionts."

The article, which is Kelly's thesis from her doctoral studies at the University of California, Irvine, examines the effects of caffeine on four species of coral symbionts. Their findings support the hypothesis that pollutants discharged into the ocean can exacerbate the effects of coral reef health problems such as coral bleaching.

Kelly's doctoral research in environmental health, science, and policy focused on the impact of emerging contaminants on natural water systems. She employed methods in microbiology and toxicology to analyze how caffeine from treated sewage effluent and other discharges piped into the ocean alters Symbiodinium algae that live symbiotically in hard reef building corals. These algae are the primary producers in the coral reef environment and are paramount to the survival of global coral reefs.

Caffeine, the most widely consumed pharmaceutical in the world, is also a ubiquitous tracer of urban wastewater and has been measured in ocean environments. Kelly's main interest was in a proteomics comparison study that provided insight into the variety of biological responses caused by low doses of caffeine. Results showed that an alteration of heat-shock proteins caused by the presence of caffeine may act as an additive stressor in the reef environment thereby increasing the probability and/or severity of coral bleaching events. She has co-authored an encyclopedia article on pharmaceuticals in natural waters and presented her research in July 2008 at the International Coral Reef Symposium.

Prior to her PhD, Kelly received an MS in environmental health, science, and policy at the University of California, Irvine as well as a BS in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles.