New biology lab at Auburn to house research on effects of global climate change

AUBURN – Auburn University’s College of Sciences and Mathematics, or COSAM, will dedicate the new Molette Biology Laboratory for Environmental and Climate Change Studies on Friday, Nov. 5, at 3 p.m. in the Rouse Life Sciences Building rotunda.  The new facility will enable COSAM faculty and students to expand their scientific research within freshwater and marine systems in the context of global climate change. The dedication is open to the public and will feature a short presentation, reception and interactive tours of the lab.

In the last 18 months, three faculty members in COSAM have been instrumental in securing more than $3.5 million in research grants. Biological sciences professors Kenneth Halanych, Scott Santos and Kevin Fielman were awarded these funds because of their extensive and ongoing research with various terrestrial and aquatic species, focused mainly on marine segmented worms and other invertebrates. The understanding of such organisms will contribute to scientific knowledge of how climate change and other large-scale human disturbances, like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, affect species’ growth, adaptation, genetics and overall development.

“We are stepping up to the plate by dedicating time, energy, people and a focused space where our faculty and students can work on climate change research and its effects on the environment,” said COSAM Dean Marie Wooten.

The Molette Lab will also provide a basis for cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and position Auburn University as a leader in global climate change research.

The opening of the Molette Lab comes on the heels of Auburn University’s swift scientific response to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling platform.

Halanych, who is internationally known for his research in molecular systematics, phylogeography and evolution of marine invertebrates, further established himself as a leading expert on marine ecosystems with his research into the response of organisms to the oil and dispersants left in the Gulf of Mexico. To date, Halanych has authored close to 80 articles in publications such as Science, Evolution and Development, Annual Reviews of Ecology and Systematics, and Systematic Biology. He is also an alumni professor and the faculty marine biology coordinator and liaison.

“We will use these state-of-the-art facilities to serve the state of Alabama by focusing on key topics such as the Gulf oil spill and human impacts on aquatic environments,” Halanych said. “The generous gift from the Molettes has provided critical infrastructure needed to allow us to further our research endeavors on important environmental and climate change issues.”

The Molette Lab will be directed by Halanych, Santos and Fielman, and was made possible by a gift from William Page Molette, a 1927 electrical engineering graduate, and his wife, Ruth. As a result of William Molette’s interest in scientific research, he and his wife bequeathed their entire estate to Auburn University. According to William Molette’s wishes, the estate was designated for non-endowed scientific research in COSAM. A portion of the $2.7 million estate gift was dedicated by COSAM to the establishment of the Molette Lab.

(Contributed by Candis Birchfield.)

Contact: Jack Feminella (334) 844-3906 (feminjw@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)