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St. Norbert College Professor David Hunnicutt Receives Wisconsin Sea Grant

From Wisconsin Sea Grant, February 23, 2016
by Moira Harrington, moira@aqua.wisc.edu, 608-263-5371

The University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute today announced a $3.9 million 2016-17 omnibus grant to fund 19 Great Lakes research, education and outreach, including a project at St. Norbert College in DePere.

"We often say the Great Lakes are a gift from the glaciers," said Sea Grant Director Jim Hurley. "This gift is a valuable one--a 2011 study found 1.5 million jobs are tied to the lakes, with $62 billion in annual wages. Just as the lakes fuel our economy, they also enrich our quality of life. That's why we are pleased that these science-based projects, 15 new ones and three continuing from 2015, can further Wisconsin's economic, cultural and public health needs as tied to lakes Michigan and Superior."

Professor David Hunnicutt at St. Norbert College is working with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to research the fish disease Flavobacterium columnare, which affects both wild fish and those in aquaculture. In earlier Sea Grant-funded work, the researchers found that Flavobacterium cells have a novel secretion system that transports proteins to the cell surface and beyond. Some of the secreted proteins are needed for the bacterium to attach to and move over surfaces. Hunnicutt and his peers suspect these secreted proteins might allow the bacteria to cause disease in fish. This gives them a clear strategy to attack the bacterium. About the new project, the researchers write: "Virulence factors secreted by the T9SS will be identified, and the genes encoding these will be deleted to determine the effect on virulence. Avirulent mutants will be tested as effective vaccine strains to protect against wild type F. columnare."

The entire two-year grant will support a total of 19 projects of exploration of the freshwater seas. In addition to the St. Norbert College-based work, scientists on the La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee and Stevens Point campuses of the University of Wisconsin System, as well as at Northland College will be funded. Exploration of Wisconsin's shipwrecks through a longtime partnership between Sea Grant and the Wisconsin Historical Society is also part of this package, along with an education project that involves the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

In projects other than that at St. Norbert, researchers will look at the health of the waterways, methods to prevent Great Lakes beach contamination, causes and possible ways to lessen the destruction of floods and more.

Nearly 100 researchers, staff and students will be engaged in this work, said Hurley.