Ruth Gates: Marine biologist who worked on "super coral"



Ruth Gates was a British coral reef biologist and marine conservationist who best remembered defending super coral breeding that could resist the effects of global warming and recover rapidly deteriorating cliffs around the world.

Gates, who died of cancer at the age of 56, was director of the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology at Hawaiian University in Manoa. Her wife, Robin Burton-Gates, survives.

Gates grew up in Kent and said it was the first time to become coral reefs through the colorful television films of marine explorer Jacques Cousteau. "Although Cousteau came to the television, he revealed the oceans in a way that no one else could," she said New Yorker in 2016.

By the age of eleven she said she knew she wanted to be a marine biologist. She also received a Doctorate in Marine Biology, published dozens of scientific papers, and in 2015 she became the first woman elected as President of the International Society for the Study of Cliffs. It also appeared in last year's Netflix documentary that won Emmy Chasing Coral and has become a frequent commentator in the media on reef protection as well as the impacts of climate change.

"Corals seem to be the most complex organisms on the planet, so if I can understand, I understand everyone else," she said in a video for the Hawaii University Foundation, a fundraising organization for the UH system this year.

Like all coral biologists, Gates was studying the disappearing organism. According to scientific estimates, according to scientific estimates, about one-third to one-half of the world's reefs have been killed, as the species has been devastated by pollution, ocean acidification, and rising temperatures.

Corals are small, anemic-like animals that often live in vast colonies made from thousands of genetically identical individuals or polyps. Like their relatives, the coral polyps of the tentacles are armed with stinging cells that can catch microscopic pieces of food from the water.

Most corals have a symbiotic relationship with the tiny algae that live within their tissues. And as plants, these algae can use the energy of sunlight to create the sugars they share with their animal hosts. It is this intimate relationship between such diverse species that Gates has confused and fascinated, choosing to study corals specifically to try to understand the symbiosis at the molecular level.

Gates arrived in Jamaica for graduate fieldwork in 1985, just in time to witness this symbiotic relationship. In 1987, the Caribbean had one of the first major coral bleaching events, where normally-colored animals suddenly lose their algae partners, and their white skeletons of calcium carbonate show up through relatively bright tissues. Gates' early work on animals helped biologists understand that such bleaching is a severe version of a normal temperature process.

She graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles after moving to the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (HIB) in 2003, where she became director in 2015. In Hawaii, a live coral reef directly in her backyard had an immediate access to experimental experiments.

The strongest of her efforts included "super corals" – those that were specially selected and reared for their ability to withstand the warmer, acidic waters that will emerge in the future due to climate change. It is an idea based on Gates' early work on coral bleaching and its observation that no matter how bad whitening was, the individual corals survived.

In 2013, he won an $ 10,000 essay competition (£ 7,618) sponsored by Microsoft's co-founder, Paul Allen, to create innovative ideas for mitigating fast-acidifying oceans.

Winner received a later plan with Madeleine van Oppen of the Australian Marine Research Institute, which received a grant of $ 4 million from the Foundation in 2015.

"We knew the time was short for coral and human salvation, Ruth saw an opportunity in coral breeding, which not only survived past difficulties, but was beneficial in difficult conditions," said Brian Taylor, Dean of Hawaii University at Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Sciences techniques that oversaw the Hawaiian Institute. "Her lab determines what features make some corals better than others, and enhance these features through selective breeding."

Gates refers to it as an "accelerated natural selection". The speed of change in the environment has significantly overcome the ability of corals to adapt, "she said in the UH Foundation video in 2018.

Identifying the heaviest coral by selecting those who survived the warmer water in the lab and worked on the breeding of those who created corals that are even more resilient. It is like a process by which farmers have heavier crops. Finally, she said that these "super-corals" could be used to replenish cliffs after mass murders, as has been the case in recent years with the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Australia.

The project is in the fourth year and has led to several scientific publications, but according to colleague Himb, it has just come to its original state. In addition to selecting and breeding resistant corals, members of the project continue to explore how flexibility is passed from generation to generation and explore the possibility of inoculating corals with more heat resistant algae and other symbiotic organisms (Coral probiotics). Projects are now in the hands of their students and colleagues.

Gates' vision has been criticized by some in the scientific community.

"It seems unlikely that in a few years we will succeed in what has not been achieved for the last several hundred million years," said Ken Caldeira, a Stanford University researcher at Carnegie, New Yorker said in 2016. "There is an idea that there should be some easy techno-fix if we could be creative enough to find it. I do not think that's true. "

Others thought super corals drew attention from more important goals, such as reducing carbon emissions. "Convert energy and resources to something we know will change," said late Paul Jokiel, colleague Himb Newsweek in 2016.

Gates was driven but did not consider her plan as the only viable alternative, friends said the publication. "I really do not care about this one," she said New Yorker. "I do not care what happens to corals, and if I can do anything to help them keep them and keep them in the future, I'll do everything I can."

Ruth Deborah Gates was born October 28, 1962 in Akrotiri, Cyprus. She grew up mainly in Kent, where she attended a boarding school while her parents traveled for the work of her father in military intelligence. Her mother trained as a physical therapist.

At the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, near the North Sea, she received a bachelor's degree in 1984 and earned her doctorate in 1990, both in marine biology.

In September she married her companion for four years. Besides his wife, the survivor is a brother.

Gates often remarked the resistance she had encountered as a young woman trying to pursue a career in science and became a determined advocate of her students regardless of sex. When she was elected president of the International Society for the Study of Cliffs, one of her first steps was to diversify her staff. She was known in the community for her disarming charisma, reassuring English accent, which was hard pressed by training as a warrior. She got a black belt in karate.

"I watched some cliffs fall apart in front of my eyes," she said Times Supplement Higher Education in 2016. "I just can not bear the idea that future generations may not be experiencing a coral reef, and their mission is to start solving this problem, not just to study it."

Ruth Gates, biologist, born on March 28, 1962, died October 25, 2018

© Washington Post


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