Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
Martin Polz, assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Nicholas Makris, associate professor in the Department of Ocean Engineering, have been awarded the 2000 Doherty Professorship in Ocean Utilization from the MIT Sea Grant College Program.
Every year, the program selects one or two new faculty members for a supplemental award of $25,000 per year for two years.
Dr. Polz develops molecular approaches to understand the structure and function of microbial communities as key elements of marine and aquatic ecosystems. His Doherty-funded research will focus on the increasing and unexplained incidences of marine-related illnesses and harmful algal blooms.
By studying the complete lifecycles of harmful microorganisms, he expects to gain insight into the causes of disease outbreak and to develop new strategies that will help in protecting human health as well as important food species from adverse effects of marine microbial pathogens and algal blooms.
Dr. Makris will do acoustic research, monitoring natural and manmade ambient noise in Massachusetts Bay with specific emphasis on Stellwagen Bank. The region is home to abundant marine life, including a variety of marine mammals.
The findings are expected to significantly improve understanding of the relative distribution of sounds arising from marine mammal sources versus those caused by shipping, wind and waves. The work will also gauge the feasibility of using passive acoustic arrays to track marine mammals, determine their abundance and monitor their behavior.
The Doherty Professorship, endowed by the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, encourages promising, nontenured professors to undertake marine-related research that will further innovative uses of the ocean's resources. The area of research may address any aspect of marine use and/or management, whether social, political, environmental, or technological.
In March 1999, Assistant Professor David Mindell was awarded a Doherty chair for his work in deep-sea archeology. Ocean missions found Roman and Carthaginian shipwrecks more than a mile deep in the Mediterranean.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 2000.