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Microbial connections

Originally from New England, Erin Bertrand wanted to come back east after completing her postdoctoral fellowship at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. She had heard about the big push behind ocean research at Dalhousie and decided to come for a visit in the winter of 2013.

Bertrand fell in love with Halifax and jumped at the opportunity to move here when she was offered a job in 2015. Now assistant professor, Department of Biology, and Canada Research Chair in Marine Microbial Proteomics, she says “This is a great place to be an ocean science researcher.”

HIGHLIGHTS: As soon as her first research cruise to the Southern Ocean reached the sea ice edge in the Ross Sea, Dr. Bertrand was hooked. “Encountering that striking seascape and the tremendous biological activity that it supported, all while contributing to discoveries about how that biological activity is sustained: I couldn’t imagine a better job!”

Another highlight came from some laboratory work, when she discovered the function of a protein that would let her diagnose some of the ocean’s microbes and understand when and where they might be stressed. Stress can affect the way a microbe grows—either by slowing it down, or changing the way it uses resources. “Measuring this protein is exactly what my lab group is working to do now,” says Dr. Bertrand.

WHY she DOes IT: For Dr. Bertrand, it’s about understanding how something operating at the molecular level can have a large and even global impact. “What I like about my research field is that I can study how the demand for a rare, tiny nutrient, required to make a handful of proteins work, can shape patterns for fisheries productivity and influence interactions between the ocean and atmospheric carbon.”

“I’ve always looked at the world as extremely interconnected. I want to better understand that and be able to better articulate those interconnections.”