Yale Daily News

Yale-NUS professor Stephen Pointing has proved that the Great Barrier Reef is affected by microbes from the seemingly unconnected ecosystem of continental Australia — prompting reconsideration of how ecosystem management and conservation should function.

In a Jan. 29 press release, Yale-NUS announced that Pointing’s research had been published in two scientific journals: Nature Microbiology and The ISME Journal. The research focuses on how microbes from one ecosystem can impact the health of those living in other distant environments. The team developed an apparatus that allowed them to study airborne microbes, which decompose quickly when collected for research. This allowed the team to conclude that there is a definitive link between sea, air and sky, specifically in the relationship between the continent and the reef.

“In order to make effective policy decisions to protect our natural environment, it is vital to have reliable data on the level of connectivity between different ecosystems,” Pointing said. “The role that the air plays in ecosystem connectivity has not been appreciated until now.”

Recent technological advancements have enabled Pointing and his team to observe the transport of microbes more empirically. He found that different microorganisms move through the air differently, though he is still researching what factors shape that process.

Next up for Pointing and his team is gathering an understanding of the determinants that allow some microorganisms to perform better than others in a harsh environment.

For Pointing, his findings have implications beyond the field of microbiology. He said that in order to craft effective policy, environmentalists need reliable data on how ecosystems relate to each other. For example, microorganisms’ role in ecosystem health means that altering their transport patterns could have “potentially catastrophic environmental impacts.”

“Professor Pointing’s novel findings help us better understand and safeguard the fragile Great Barrier Reef ecosystem,” said Pericles Lewis, inaugural president of Yale-NUS. “It is also a great example [of] how environmental research at Yale-NUS benefits from the college’s location in a part of the world with great biodiversity.”

Yale-NUS College, according to Pointing, has been growing its reach in the sciences as it continues to attract higher enrollments and cultivate a vibrant research community. He highlighted the college’s excellence in fields such as data science, ecology and theoretical physics.

Yale-NUS was founded in 2011.

John Besche | john.besche@yale.edu