Scripps Honors Recent Grad for Algal Bloom Study


Xavier Mayali, a recent graduate of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, has been selected as the winner of the 2008 Edward A. Frieman Prize, an annual recognition by Scripps of excellence in graduate student research. Mayali was honored at an award ceremony held July 25 on the Scripps campus.

The 13th recipient of the Frieman Prize, Mayali was recognized for his research paper, “Cultivation and Ecosystem Role of a Marine Roseobacter Clade-Affiliated Cluster Bacterium,” which was published in the May 1, 2008 edition of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. It was co-authored by Mayali’s advisors, Scripps professor of biological oceanography Peter Franks and Scripps professor of marine microbiology Farooq Azam. Mayali’s paper was chosen as the favorite of 12 papers submitted to a committee of Scripps faculty, which covered topics ranging from biological oceanography to climate science and geophysics.

The Frieman Prize was established in 1996 to celebrate the 70th birthday of Scripps Oceanography's eighth director, Edward A. Frieman, who led Scripps from 1986 to 1996. The prize is awarded annually to a Scripps graduate student who has published an outstanding research paper in the past 12 months, as evaluated by a Scripps faculty committee. Each student winner is awarded a $1,000 cash prize and a certificate.

Mayali’s award-winning research identified a little-understood but common marine microbe as a red tide killer, and implicates the microbe in the termination of a red tide in Southern California waters in the summer of 2005.

While not all algal outbreaks are harmful, some blooms carry toxins that have been known to threaten marine ecosystems and even kill marine mammals, fish, and birds.

Using a series of new approaches, Mayali investigated the inner workings of a bloom of dinoflagellates, single-celled plankton known by the species name Lingulodinium polyedrum. The techniques revealed that so-called Roseobacter-Clade Affiliated ("RCA cluster") bacteria – several at a time – attacked individual dinoflagellates by attaching directly to the plankton's cells, slowing their swimming speed, and eventually killing them.

“The work was based on a proposal Xavier wrote himself,” said Franks. “He worked very independently and it was absolutely delightful having him as a student.”

Mayali first became interested in phycology, the study of algae, as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. He decided to pursue a career in science after spending time in the tropics at Berkeley's Gump Research Station on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia.

“This is the highlight of my academic career so far,” said Mayali to an audience of his mentors and peers at the Frieman Prize award ceremony. “It’s a pleasure and an honor for me to accept this award.”

Mayali received his Ph.D. degree from Scripps in Fall 2007 and is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Marine Biology Research Division at Scripps.

—Shannon Casey

July 25, 2008

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