Anny Cárdenas is a postdoctoral fellow in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center with a research focus on gaining a better understanding of coral reef microbes. In the RSRC, Anny applies cutting-edge computational methods to decipher the microbial interactions in coral reefs. She decided to join KAUST after initially visiting the University for fieldwork during her time as a Ph.D. student in Marine Microbiology at Bremen University's Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research in Germany.
"I had the opportunity to come to KAUST to do some experiments and fieldwork required for my Ph.D. because there was an ongoing collaboration between my lab in Germany and the PI here, Christian Voolstra. After my initial visit in 2014—which I really enjoyed—I went back to Bremen University and defended my thesis in 2017 (on algal exudates on bacterial-mediated coral reef degradation by promoting virulence expression) and then applied for a postdoctoral position here at the RSRC," Cárdenas said.
"I think KAUST has a very particular diverse environment. What I enjoy the most about being here at KAUST is interacting with a wide diversity of people and I have not seen that in any other places that I have visited before," she added.
Cárdenas, who is originally from Bogotá, Colombia, began her scientific career in her native country exploring the physiology and metabolism of coral, algae, and sponge bacterial isolates. "I have always been interested in genetics of marine microbes. I began working with corals when I first started my research journey. From there, I moved more and more into bacterial genetics, and understanding the mechanisms why bacteria can be helpful for corals," she observed.
As a member of the Reef Genomics Lab within the RSRC, her current research focuses on the exploration of functional features of coral-associated bacterial populations, bacterial and viral mediation of coral larval settlement, and organosulfur compound transformations mediated by coral-associated bacteria. "I am currently evaluating how bacteria found in coral tissues transform sulfur organic compounds and how these transformations can potentially promote coral heat tolerance," Cárdenas said.
Cárdenas believes that her research regarding microbial diversity and investigating coral heat stress resistance can contribute to overall coral conservation efforts within Saudi Arabia and can also have an impact on the Kingdom's industrial sector. "With our research, we are trying to decipher what is the preferred microbial arrangement that most thermotolerant corals have along the Red Sea. We want to evaluate the potential of those microbes to increase thermal tolerance in less resistant corals. Sometimes we also find new bacterial strains, new genomes, and new enzymes that might have an impact on industry within the Kingdom," she explained.
"Here at KAUST we have high-end equipment and facilities to explore the surrounding marine ecosystem and to do high-quality research," she noted. "Every time we want to carry out an experiment in the field, we can take out a boat, collect samples and be back in the lab on the same day, and this is a real advantage for our type of work. Not every researcher has the opportunities that we have at KAUST and in the RSRC," Cárdenas concluded.