USC research student devoted to health of reef - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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USC research student devoted to health of reef

7 Oct 2019

Rhianna O’Regan’s university career started with an intention to help sick people but that focus has morphed into a passion for helping sick corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

Enrolling in a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at USC in 2015, Rhianna said she had assumed she’d continue her study and become a doctor.

“It was always something I’d been interested in, but during a placement in Brisbane at a clinical trials laboratory I realised that I actually loved the microbiology component much more than hands-on medical work,” Rhianna said.

“I was then lucky enough to be part of a horticultural research project in my final year of my undergraduate degree and I realised that research was the path I wanted to follow.”

This year Rhianna, who grew up in the town of 1770 near Gladstone, began her Master of Science at USC and has successfully combined her love of the Great Barrier Reef with her passion for microbiology.

“I’m investigating whether resident fungi in corals provide a probiotic effect and improve the wellbeing and survival of the corals,” she said.

“Corals are subject to lots of different environmental conditions and, with the changing climate and warming, they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to diseases.”

Research supervisor USC Senior Lecturer in Environmental Microbiology Dr Ipek Kurtboke said Rhianna was privileged to be doing the work in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Cook University.

“The data Rhianna is collecting will be of crucial importance for the sustained existence of the corals in Australian waters,” Dr Kurtboke said.

“It will also provide a sound basis for similar research conducted on other marine environments.”

Rhianna’s commitment to science and the environment has seen her recognised recently with a USC Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarship worth up to $18,000, as well as the Woman in Science University bursary from the Zonta Club of Noosa worth $1,000.

“I’m so grateful for the acknowledgement and the financial support will go a long way to assist with field trips and travel over the course of my Masters,” Rhianna said.

- Megan Woodward

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