Meet Maine-eDNA: Samuel Tan, Graduate Research Assistant

Jane Horovitz, EPSCoR Student Writer

Samuel Tan, from Singapore, is a new Ph.D. student in the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences, working with Maine EPSCoR’s current Track-1 award, Maine-eDNA. According to Tan, despite Singapore’s urbanization, the area has a surprising amount of wildlife on land and in sea.

“Even though our water there is incredibly murky, our corals are surprisingly healthy and tough compared to those in the overall region, especially when it comes to climate change,” Tan explained.

Tan completed his undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom, where he studied fish communities in Nordic lakes using environmental DNA (eDNA). He is excited to see how eDNA technology has advanced since his undergraduate research.

“The technology was a bit cruder then,” Tan said, explaining how during his undergraduate studies, he had to use shotgun sequencing rather than metabarcoding, which is typically used with eDNA today. “The technology has advanced considerably since then.”

Tan’s research with the Maine-eDNA program will focus on microbial communities and how they change in response to disturbances, such as human impact or seasonal disturbances, among other things. He will be advised by Maine-eDNA researchers Jeremy Rich at the Darling Marine Center and David Emerson at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.

Tan is excited to work with Maine-eDNA and gain new skills that he hopes will be useful and transferable for whatever sort of animal, ecosystem, or climate he may be involved with in the future. He stated that other programs he considered just didn’t have the sheer amount of funding and resources that the Maine-eDNA program has. With a program dedicated to eDNA, Tan hopes he will have a support system of researchers who will be able to work together to better troubleshoot problems and establish better eDNA techniques and methods.

“So, when it comes to eDNA, this is one of the better programs that I can learn from,” Tan said.

After Tan finishes his Ph.D., he is interested in applying eDNA technology to the tropics, since he feels the conservation needs are more pressing there. He would also like to work for a local government body that deals with wildlife conservation.