Rimoldi Ibanez in the lab

Rimoldi Ibanez in the lab

AVON PARK, Fla. – April 28, 2021 — “A growing number of studies have shown that trees can communicate, and that this communication is important for ecosystems such as rain forests,” said Camila Rimoldi Ibanez, a Sebring High School student in the Dual Enrollment Program at South Florida State College (SFSC). “Coral reefs are often referred to as the rainforests of the sea because of the habitat they provide for a variety of plants and animals. Thus, I wanted to find out how coral communicates.”

Rimoldi Ibanez will present new findings at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting during the virtual Experimental Biology (EB) 2021 meeting that runs April 27 through 30. Her research mentor is Dr. James Hawker, dean of arts and sciences at SFSC.

“Camila came to me with this idea for a coral research project and asked if I would help and mentor her,” Dr. Hawker said. “Little did we know, her research results and poster presentation would garner so much press attention at the Experimental Biology virtual conference and beyond. That is a testament to the quality and innovation of her project. She is a very gifted student from our area. She wants to be a marine biologist, and I am glad SFSC could help her in her academic aspirations.”

Corals are part of a highly complex ecosystem, but it remains a mystery if and how they might communicate within their biological community. In this new study, Rimoldi Ibanez found evidence of sound-related genes in corals, suggesting that the marine invertebrates could use sound to interact with their surroundings.

Many organisms that live in coral reefs perceive sound and use it to find their way to the reefs. Based on this information, Rimoldi Ibanez looked for the presence of genes related to the reception and/or emission of sound in the coral Cyphastrea. Using PCR amplification, the researchers found probable evidence that two of the four genes they examined may be present in coral DNA. The genes they found — TRPV and FOLH-1 — are used for sound emission or reception in sea anemones and freshwater polyps, respectively.

In addition to performing more testing, Rimoldi Ibanez wants to sequence the TRPV and FOLH-1 genes they found to add additional evidence that these genes, or genes related to them, are present in coral.

“As we learn more about the negative impacts of sound in different kinds of ecosystems, it is vital that we set policies to protect and manage human noises in natural environments,” said Rimoldi Ibanez. “The more we know about how corals communicate, the better we can develop restoration and conservation projects to help corals as they face bleaching epidemics and other threats.”

“Camila is an amazing young lady,” said Dr. Brenda Longshore, superintendent, School Board of Highlands County. “As a high school senior and college dual enrollment student, she has already been recognized at the regional, state, and international levels through the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida, is the author of published research, and recently added the prestigious Skoch Scholarship to her list of accomplishments. I am extremely proud of her and I am confident she has a tremendous future ahead of her.”

After her presentation at the EB 2021 meeting this month, Rimoldi Ibanez has two graduation ceremonies to look forward to. She graduates from SFSC with an Associate in Arts on Tuesday, May 11 and Sebring High School on Saturday, May 29.

Experimental Biology (EB) is an annual meeting comprised of thousands of scientists from five host societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the United States and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research.

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with more than 12,000 members worldwide. Founded in 1906 to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology, the society publishes three peer-reviewed journals, advocates for funding of basic research and education, supports science education at all levels, and promotes the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce.