This scientist is on an international jellyfish tour to explore slime and jellyfish

Questions and answers

From some of the world’s largest jellyfish in Japan to tiny poisonous Irukandji in Australia, UBC PhD student Jessica Schaub is about to embark on an international jellyfish tour.

A doctoral student in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences and the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries, Schaub will explore jellyfish blooms, huge groups of floating “jellyfish” in Japan, France, Argentina and Australia, thanks to a Hugh Morris Fellowship. An Indigenous scientist, Schaub hopes his trip will inspire young Indigenous people to consider careers in science.

What is a “jellyfish”?

Jellyfish actually have two shapes. One is the fluttering, throbbing creature that everyone is familiar with called a jellyfish. The other is a tiny polyp that lives attached to the ground. Jellyfish and polyps have the same DNA, so they are effectively clones. Large groups of jellyfish are known as flowers, which occur seasonally along the coasts of the world. These blooms can cause economic and ecological hardship, especially when fishermen catch jellyfish instead of fish. Interestingly, polyps determine the success of flowers, like their size, but research on these tiny creatures is sparse.

During my trip, I will travel to France and Argentina to learn about polyp research from some of the few specialists out there, while learning about some of the impacts of blooms in Japan and Australia. My Travels are funded by a Hugh Morris Fellowship, administered by the Kimberley Foundation, which enables Canadian graduate students researching in a priority area related to Earth sciences to “undertake a program of self-guided travel and learning through experience “.

Moon jellyfish polyps grown at UBC, scale bar is 1 mm. Credit: Jessica Schaub.

What do you do with slime, tourists and poisonous jellyfish in Australia?

I will be watching a project on Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth, Australia. This reef attracts around 40,000 tourists every year during the whale shark migration, which unfortunately often coincides with the appearance of dangerous Irukandji jellyfish. These jellyfish are tiny and hard to see, but their sting is very powerful and has been fatal in some cases.

To protect tourists, researchers from the Western Australian government and Griffith University’s Sea Jellies Research Lab are working together to develop a type of rapid test that uses environmental DNA (eDNA) to sample water before visiting. send tourists swimming. This rapid test would determine if Irukandji jellyfish are present based on the mucus they release into the water which could be detected via DNA. The higher the level of mucus, the more Irukandji in the water and the more dangerous it is for tourists to swim.

What do you hope the trip will mean for Indigenous youth?

Indigenous peoples are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related fields due to many barriers, both historical and contemporary. For example, Indigenous methodologies are often overlooked as hard science, despite offering alternative and often complementary approaches to solving common problems. These Indigenous perspectives, like many other perspectives, are very important in STEM because they offer new ways of approaching problems.

I think advocacy is one of the key ways to change the narrative and encourage Indigenous youth to pursue careers in STEM. So I try to be open and honest about the positive and negative aspects of my journey as a scientist. I hope that by sharing my story, young people can identify and see themselves as scientists too. This trip will allow me to highlight many things that I love about science – learning, collaboration, travel and new experiences – and I hope it will appeal to those considering a career in STEM.

Follow Jessica’s adventures and science via her Instagram and TikTok.

Language(s) of the interview: English (Schaub)

Images and b-roll for media: https://bit.ly/Jellyfishtour

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