Rotorua scientist receives Marsden Fund award

11 September 2007

A Rotorua scientist has received a prestigious Marsden Fund award for his work investigating how inanga (or whitebait) maintain their internal equilibrium during their transition through waters of differing salt levels.

Chris Glover, a biomaterials scientist at Crown Research Institute Scion was awarded the $170,000 Fast-Start grant in the 2007 Marsden Fund round of awards, announced late last week

More than 900 proposals applied for the funds, with 93 awarded overall. Dr Glover’s work will investigate how inanga (which comprise part of New Zealand’s whitebait fishery) regulate their ion transporters during their transition between rivers, estuaries and the ocean, and as a result, the daily salt fluctuations in the water they inhabit.

“Life in water is not easy, even for fish!” says Dr Glover.

“In freshwater, fish lose important ions like sodium and chloride to their more dilute surroundings, while in seawater, they are actually faced with an ion influx. To deal with these challenges, fish utilise membrane-bound proteins to absorb or expel ions as required.

“Inanga face an even greater challenge as during their development, they transition between rivers, estuaries and the ocean, and as a result, are faced with both daily and migration-related salinity or salt fluctuations in the water they inhabit.

“The research aims to uncover how inanga regulate their ion transporters to face these challenges.”

Dr Glover says the goal is to assess whether the mechanism inanga use is the same for both short-term daily fluctuations, and the longer-term migration-related challenges they encounter.

“This will provide insight into the fundamental mechanisms of cellular plasticity and promote understanding of how fish face the challenge of environmental salinity variation. Such knowledge could even find application in improving whitebait catches and informing human disease research.”

This knowledge is fundamental to an understanding of environmental impacts on fish, including their sensitivity to important aquatic contaminants.