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Nanushka Bonano gives an update on her research of bacteria in Puerto Rico’s Bioluminescent Bays

Microbiologist Nanushka Mia Bonano Collazo shares a project update on her research of microbial communities in Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays.


Tell us what you have accomplished so far since starting your Seed Fund project? 

Since starting my Seed Fund project, I have presented our proposal to the thesis committee (Maria F. Barbarena-Arias, PhD and PI, and Natasha I. DeLeon-Rodriguez, PhD.) At the same time, we coordinated the final date to visit and take samples from Puerto Mosquito in Vieques. This visit had presented several difficulties, since it had to be rescheduled due to inactive bioluminescence. Active bioluminescence is necessary to be able to observe, analyze and compare results with previous samples taken from Laguna Grande, in Fajardo.

We were able to visit Puerto Mosquito in Vieques towards the beginning of the month. It was a beautiful, intense and excellent experience. At one of the entrances to the bay there was a lot of sargassum, which is typical for that time of year. This day in particular was very hectic because we sampled five different points around the bay in just forty minutes, and it was raining. Additionally, restoration work was being done on the mangroves in the channel that connects the Bay to the Caribbean Sea. This channel was assaulted by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Currently, five 1.00 liter bottles have been filtered through a Sterivex filtering unit and then frozen. We are now in the process of sending these filtered samples to an external company who will proceed with the DNA extraction and sequencing.

What has been the most challenging aspect you have encountered? How did you overcome it, or how are you working to overcome it?

There have been two challenging aspects. The first, coordinating with certainty and security our visit to Puerto Mosquito in Vieques—as previously mentioned, active bioluminescent samples are essential to my project. Secondly, in the midst of my university and professional life, I had to overcome and accept the loss of my best friend, my grandmother Elisa, who always asked me: “Nena, ¿vas a seguir estudiando? ¿No te cansas? Te admiro, siga ahi” (which means, "Baby girl, are you going to keep studying? You aren't tired yet? I admire you, keep going!"). Her character as a fighter, a fierce and unique woman is what keeps me on my feet and moving forward with my personal and professional life, with my objectives, my achievements, and my goals.

Do you have any preliminary or final results to share?


The preliminary results we have are from samples taken from Laguna Grande in Fajardo. Alpha analysis (describes diversity of species within a particular habitat) shows a higher taxonomic diversity of the bacterial community in a sample from the North side of the bay, and a lower taxonomic diversity of the bacterial community in a sample from the West side of the bay. However, the beta analysis (comparing diversity between two habitats) shows taxonomic similarity in the bacterial communities between the samples located inside of the bay. Furthermore, taxonomic differences among the bacterial communities were recorded in the samples located outside of the bay. Results from the general profiling and characterization of the microbial communities in Laguna Grande, Fajardo, indicated the presence of bacteria from the classes Flavobacteriaceae and Actinobacteria along the four inner points of the bay.

Did you discover something new about your field of interest/your topic that you didn’t know before?


After several conversations with professors of Microbiology and Ecology, I discovered that the intermediate disturbance hypothesis may be related to our study. The hypothesis states that intermediate levels of disturbance generate higher values of species diversity (Connell, 1978), leading me to believe that intermediate perturbation may be a factor that interferes with the diversity of microbial communities in Puerto Rico‘s bioluminescent bays.

What are the next steps to finish up your project and when do you aim to have it completed?

The next steps for our project are to continue with an 18S (gene) analysis for Laguna Grande and send the samples to an external company for DNA extraction and sequencing. Once we receive the results from Laguna Grande, Fajardo, and Puerto Mosquito, Vieques, we will perform the beta, alpha and general characterization of 16S and 18S (genes) microbial communities and compare them. I plan to finish by November 2023, trusting that everything goes according to plan.

"After several conversations with professors of Microbiology and Ecology, I discovered that the intermediate disturbance hypothesis may be related to our study."

Nanushka’ s Seed Fund project is supported by Medalla Light. Follow along here and on our social media for the final updates!


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