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Award Winner Q & A - Jenny Kemper

Q. What award did you receive and when?

A. Mollet Elasmobranch Research Award, July 2016

Q. What degree are you seeking, from what institution, under whose guidance?

A. I’m working towards my PhD in Marine Biomedicine and Environmental Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina under Dr. Gavin Naylor.

Q. What is the most important (actual or potential) finding of your research?  Give us a little background on the subject.

A.  The most important result of my research will be a comprehensive phylogeny of the evolutionary history among extant chimaeroid fishes, including 37 of the described species plus an additional 18 unique lineages.  Additionally, the phylogeny will have taxonomic implications for the group, with future generic changes and the finding of new, unique species.  This is the first study to estimate the evolutionary relationships among chimaeras using such a large taxon sampling scheme, as well as using two independent data sets, the first, a nuclear gene capture of over 1000 orthologous genes, and second, whole mitochondrial genomes.  Chimaeroid fishes are an important, yet poorly understood group of cartilaginous fishes.  They are contemporary relicts of a very old lineage, comprising 49 currently described species.  As the basal group of chondrichthyans, chimaeras occupy an important phylogenetic position, and are thus fundamental to our understanding of chondrichthyan and vertebrae evolution.  However, little research has been undertaken on this group, and their evolutionary diversification remains unclear.  The data will provide a historical framework reflecting the pattern and timing of diversification events that gave rise to the present day diversity in chimaeras.  Overall, this information will provide a framework for exploring trait evolution within chimaeras, and a better estimate of the basal condition for chimaeras, which will in turn inform us about the basal condition of all jawed vertebrates.   

Q. How is the award going to help you complete the project?

A. This award will help to complete data collection of the remaining unique lineages left to undergo nuclear and mitochondrial gene capture.  With the completion of data collection of the few remaining lineages, which are fundamental as one of the goals of this project is to sample as many unique species as possible, data analyses can be finalized, and the phylogeny of chimaeroid fishes can be submitted for publication. 

Q. What are your other research goals?

A.  Besides my interest in chimaeroid fishes and understanding and documenting their diversity, I’m also interested in sex determination and chromosome evolution.  In particular, another research area of my dissertation is investigating the genetic basis of sex determination among chondrichthyans, where I will be examining the genome of male and female chimaeroid species for sex-linked markers.  In the future, I hope to expand this to additional chondrichthyan species as well as look at chromosome evolution.

Q. How did you get started in research/shark bio/science?

A. As an undergraduate biology major at Florida State University, through their certificate program in living marine resource ecology, I had the opportunity to select an internship in a marine biology field of my interest.  I choose to do my internship at the NOAA Panama City laboratory with the Shark Population Assessment Group under Dr. John Carlson and Dana Bethea.  It was there that I first started research on chondrichthyans, where I completed a diet study on the cownose ray, Rhinoptera bonasus, in northwest Florida.  I attribute this opportunity to the start of my career as a marine scientist.