News from the Research Commons

July 5, 2016

Spotlight on: James Kralj and Marine Affairs

James Kralj knows water. He grew up five miles away from Lake Michigan, and travel further piqued his interest; now he studies water in Alaska and along the coast from Washington to California.

During an internship after his sophomore year at University of Wisconson-Madison, James heard former NOAA director Dr. Jane Lubchenco explain the need to involve scientists in policy-making. James remembers it as “totally mindblowing to me how she was a scientist but used her knowledge of science to make a difference in policy and laws…that really inspired me to shift away from strictly science and add more of the policy component.” After studying microbiology as an undergraduate, James shifted his focus to how science informs policy, which led him to the University of Washington’s Marine Affairs department.

James and the University of Washington are using a new and exciting type of technology: environmental DNA. Marine creatures, just like humans, shed DNA throughout the day. James collects water samples, extracts the DNA, and sequences organisms’ DNA in order to monitor the ecosystem. Environmental DNA technology provides more accurate information than ever available before, crucial to informing policies regarding endangered species and clean water. At Scholars’ Studio last spring, James described how this technology allows us to “transform our view of the ocean.”

With any new technology comes flaws, and James ruefully explains “how much failure happens before you get a result.” The UW is working to improve and enhance the environmental DNA technology while James focuses on using the technology to study the implications of oyster aquaculture on eelgrass communities along the coast.

James has one more year of study at the Marine Affairs department, and will continue to peer into water as well as rowing across it, his new Pacific Northwest hobby.