My name is Christina Biamis and I have just completed my Masters in Biochemistry at Queen’s University Belfast this summer and now I will be starting my QUADRAT DTP PhD. I am looking forward to contributing knowledge to the effects of plastic pollution on a top-level predator, the northern fulmar. This seabird species is mostly found in subarctic regions but is also found as far south as Scotland and Ireland, where it feeds on fish and other sea food.
However, due to plastic pollution in our oceans, this species can also ingest microplastics containing phthalates, nonylphenol and bisphenol A, which act as endocrine disrupters. This disruption acts through modification of the bird’s epigenome, ultimately altering their gene expression. This leaves them vulnerable to declines in reproduction and overall health.
Non-invasive methods will allow investigation of changes in DNA methylation patterns via bisulfite sequencing, as well as transcriptomic analyses via RNA sequencing. Samples investigated using these methods will allow comparisons between birds in different locations, travel routes and with different foraging habits. Subsequent systems level modelling of the epigenome and epiallele identification will reveal how this effects bird health.
I look forward to understanding more about the extent of microplastic pollution in our oceans and how species are adapting to this environmental change. This will contribute to protecting the northern fulmar present in our seaside cliffs, as well as understanding how this mirrors human exposure to microplastics.