Research focuses on pollution

FAMU is making history by being the most recent non-medical HBCU to have an article published in a prestigious science journal.    

The work of three FAMU professors from the Environmental Sciences Institute appeared in the March 2009 issue of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The article by Ashvini Chauhan, Jennifer Cherrier, and Henry Williams stemmed from a two-year scientific research project in the environmentally sensitive Apalachicola Bay in the Florida Panhandle.

Seth Blitch, manager at Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, said Apalachicola Bay produces 90 percent of Florida’s oysters and 10 percent of the oysters harvested in the United States. Located within a two hours drive of Tallahassee, the bay is one of the most productive estuarine systems due to its overall good water quality.

“A large amount of seafood restaurants depend on this bay. Without this bay a lot of people’s livelihood would be affected,” Blitch said.        

Among the trio, Chauhan was the lead scientist for the study, which was conducted from 2006 to 2008. He said he was fascinated with the bay because it was part of National Estuarine Research Reserve. He also thought the bay was a very productive and unique habitat for many species.   

“This bay serves as a good model to study nutrients in the coastal system,” Chauhan said.   

Apalachicola Bay is the end point of the Chattahoochee, Apalachicola, and Flint rivers, which originated in Georgia, according to Chauhan. While researching the bay, Chauhan noticed that the ecology was changing. There was less fresh water and more salt water entering the bay.       

“It is critical to assess the relationships between the effect of increased salinity and bacterial diversity on the water quality,” Chauhan said.       

The problem is compounded, Chauhan said, because there is an unresolved water dispute between Florida and the state of Georgia, which routinely withholds river flow into the bay in order to meet the Peach State’s growing water needs.           

According to the United States Geological Survey, by the year 2100, there will be a 61 percent decline in important salt marsh habitat in Apalachicola Bay.

“This will likely leave coastal waters and sea grass beds more vulnerable to pollution,” Chauhan said. “This would also affect native wildlife of this region.”   

Chauhan, Cherrier, and Williams submitted their research manuscript to PNAS in October 2008. On Jan. 22, 2009, Chauhan received an email stating that the research was reviewed and approved.           

“Two out of every three research manuscripts are rejected by PNAS. I was simply ecstatic to know that our manuscript was accepted,” Chauhan said.           

Williams was also surprised when he heard the article – “Impact of sideways and bottom-up control factors on bacterial community succession over a tidal cycle” – was being published.    

“To get published in one of the premier journals such as PNAS, is one of the most prestigious recognitions scientists can achieve for their research,” said Williams, director of the Environmental Sciences Institute.                                       

The National Academy of Sciences, a society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific research and technology, publishes the PNAS journal. A survey published in the Journals of Blacks in Higher Education, ranked FAMU highest among non-medical HBCU in total number of published papers and journal citations.