Samantha Kidwell

Summer Researcher with Dr. Milton Muldrow


Wilmington University

A collaboration between Wilmington University and NASA Space Grant Consortium, students are researching coral engineering. Student researchers, Samantha Kidwell, Sarah LaTorre, Christina Marchak, and Natalie Vazquez Beales, as well as graduate student Amaja Mack, are led in this endeavor by Dr. Milton Muldrow. There has been a considerable number of results from the focus of this research team. Their central focus is the correspondence between sirtuin genes and NAD+ and the role they play in coral bleaching. The students have also utilized techniques such as DNA sequencing and CRISPR (Cas9) through a partnership with ChristianaCare Gene Editing Institute to explore other methods in assisting coral adaptation with the continual change of the environmental conditions. The base of this exploration involves thorough research and development of experimental designs to improve coral heat tolerance. The goal is to identify natural heat-resistant genes or genetic traits in corals and apply techniques for genetic manipulation (such as CRISPR – Cas9) to create coral species that are more tolerant to the increasing ocean temperatures. To support their research, these students are using a symbiotic cnidarian species that belongs in the class Anthozoa (sea anemones, corals) as a model organism. This organism is also known as Aiptasia CC7. The students use the CC7 for studying the effects of oceanic factors and zooxanthellae, more specifically, the growth of the dinoflagellate aglae under stress. They are also simultaneously creating a custom Aiptasia strain termed, WILMU1. Moreover, the Wilmington University research team explores methods to improve coral calcification, which is imperative to the growth and survival of coral reefs. These research and engineering efforts are targeted to strengthen corals’ ability to construct and reinforce their skeletal structures which protect against the acidification and rising temperatures of the ocean. Outside of research, the team is involved in coral restoration projects and collaborates with organizations on different restoration techniques to rehabilitate damaged coral reefs as well as enhancing resilience in new ones.