Elora López is a Ph.D. candidate in Biology at Stanford University. She uses genomics to address questions about the ecology, evolution, and conservation of marine life. Her research spans a wide range of topics, including coral bleaching recovery in American Samoa, somatic mutations in very long-lived organisms, and the effects of nuclear radiation on wildlife at Bikini Atoll, a former nuclear testing site in the Marshall Islands.
López's first research expedition to Bikini Atoll was featured on the PBS documentary series Big Pacific in June 2017. Her research projects have also been featured in USA Today, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Hakai Magazine.
López is a National Geographic Early Career Explorer, an Explorers Club Rolex Explorer, a Stanford Graduate Fellow in Science & Engineering, and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellow.
Somatic mutations and genome stability maintenance in clonal coral colonies.
Molecular biology and evolution
One challenge for multicellular organisms is maintaining genome stability in the face of mutagens across long life spans. Imperfect genome maintenance leads to mutation accumulation in somatic cells, which is associated with tumors and senescence in vertebrates. Colonial reef-building corals are often large, can live for hundreds of years, rarely develop recognizable tumors, and are thought to convert somatic cells into gamete producers, so they are a pivotal group in which to understand long-term genome maintenance. To measure rates and patterns of somatic mutations, we analyzed transcriptomes from 17-22 branches from each of four Acropora hyacinthus colonies, determined putative single nucleotide variants, and verified them with Sanger resequencing. Unlike for human skin carcinomas, there is no signature of mutations caused by UV damage, indicating either higher efficiency of repair than in vertebrates, or strong sunscreen protection in these shallow water tropical animals. The somatic mutation frequency per nucleotide in A. hyacinthus is on the same order of magnitude (10-7) as noncancerous human somatic cells, and accumulation of mutations with age is similar. Unlike mammals, loss of heterozygosity variants outnumber gain of heterozygosity mutations about 2:1. Although the mutation frequency is similar in mammals and corals, the preponderance of loss of heterozygosity changes and potential selection may reduce the frequency of deleterious mutations in colonial animals like corals. This may limit the deleterious effects of somatic mutations on the coral organism as well as potential offspring.
View details for DOI 10.1093/molbev/msz270
View details for PubMedID 31722397
Transcriptomic resilience, symbiont shuffling, and vulnerability to recurrent bleaching in reef-building corals.
As climate change progresses and extreme temperature events increase in frequency, rates of disturbance may soon outpace the capacity of certain species of reef-building coral to recover from bleaching. This may lead to dramatic shifts in community composition and ecosystem function. Understanding variation in rates of bleaching recovery among species and how that translates to resilience to recurrent bleaching is fundamental to predicting the impacts of increasing disturbances on coral reefs globally. We tracked the response of two heat sensitive species in the genus Acropora to repeated bleaching events during the austral summers of 2015 and 2017. Despite a similar bleaching response, the species Acropora gemmifera recovered faster based on transcriptome-wide gene expression patterns and had a more dynamic algal symbiont community than Acropora hyacinthus growing on the same reef. Moreover, A. gemmifera had higher survival to repeated heat extremes, with sixfold lower mortality than A. hyacinthus. These patterns suggest that speed of recovery from a first round of bleaching, based on multiple mechanisms, contributes strongly to sensitivity to a second round of bleaching. Furthermore, our data uncovered intra-genus variation in a group of corals thought generally to be heat-sensitive and therefore paint a more nuanced view of the future health of coral reef ecosystems against a backdrop of increasing thermal disturbances. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
View details for DOI 10.1111/mec.15143
View details for PubMedID 31177587
Mechanisms of Thermal Tolerance in Reef-Building Corals across a Fine-Grained Environmental Mosaic: Lessons from Ofu, American Samoa
Frontiers in Marine Science
2018; 4 (434)
View details for DOI 10.3389/fmars.2017.00434
- Genetic connectivity among populations of lollyfish (Holothuria atra) Fiji’s Sea Cucumber Fishery: Advances in Science for Improved Management. edited by Mangubhai, S., Lalavanua , W., Purcell, S. Wildlife Conservation Society. 2017: 62–70
Population Connectivity Measures of Fishery-Targeted Coral Reef Species to Inform Marine Reserve Network Design in Fiji
Coral reef fish serve as food sources to coastal communities worldwide, yet are vulnerable to mounting anthropogenic pressures like overfishing and climate change. Marine reserve networks have become important tools for mitigating these pressures, and one of the most critical factors in determining their spatial design is the degree of connectivity among different populations of species prioritized for protection. To help inform the spatial design of an expanded reserve network in Fiji, we used rapidly evolving mitochondrial genes to investigate connectivity patterns of three coral reef species targeted by fisheries in Fiji: Epinephelus merra (Serranidae), Halichoeres trimaculatus (Labridae), and Holothuria atra (Holothuriidae). The two fish species, E. merra and Ha. trimaculatus, exhibited low genetic structuring and high amounts of gene flow, whereas the sea cucumber Ho. atra displayed high genetic partitioning and predominantly westward gene flow. The idiosyncratic patterns observed among these species indicate that patterns of connectivity in Fiji are likely determined by a combination of oceanographic and ecological characteristics. Our data indicate that in the cases of species with high connectivity, other factors such as representation or political availability may dictate where reserves are placed. In low connectivity species, ensuring upstream and downstream connections is critical.
View details for DOI 10.1038/srep19318
View details for Web of Science ID 000368815000001
View details for PubMedID 26805954
View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4726325
Collateral damage to marine and terrestrial ecosystems from Yankee whaling in the 19th century
Ecology and Evolution
2016; 06 (22): 8181–8192
View details for DOI 10.1002/ece3.2542