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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Profitable partnerships: URI graduate students
receive Sea Grant Industrial Fellowships

NARRAGANSETT -- September 3, 2002 -- Reducing bacterial threats to human health is the driving force behind two University of Rhode Island (URI) graduate student proposals that have been selected to receive National Sea Grant Industrial Fellowship awards.

Kenneth J. La Valley, URI Ph.D. student in environmental science and director of quality assurance at Spinney Creek Shellfish, Inc., in Maine, received an Industry Fellowship to work with Spinney Creek Shellfish to address a deadly bacterial contamination found in shellfish. Each year, approximately 20 people die from septicemia (blood poisoning) brought on by consumption of raw shellfish, particularly oysters, that are contaminated with the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus. The molluscan shellfish industry has explored different approaches to dealing with this problem, including educational campaigns for at-risk populations, quick freezing, and ionizing radiation, but each has had its drawbacks, ranging from exorbitant costs to ineffectiveness and death of the oyster. La Valley’s project will examine relaying, which involves transferring shellfish from restricted areas to open areas for natural biological cleansing, and depuration, which involves holding shellfish in UV disinfected waters for 44 hours, as means to reduce the Vibrio pathogen. LaValley’s ultimate goal is to commercialize a depuration/relay-based Vibrio reduction process. LaValley’s major professors are Michael Rice, professor, and Marta Gómez-Chiarri, assistant professor, both of the URI fisheries, animal, and veterinary science department.

Heather Saffert, URI Ph.D. student in marine biology, received an Industry Fellowship to work with SubChem Systems, Inc., of Jamestown, R.I., to help develop and test an automated device, BioAnalyzer, to detect fecal contamination in marine waters. Current testing methods, involving physical collection of water samples for testing, require personnel and can involve lengthy waits (up to four days) for data, which results in either a delayed closure of recreational waters when a potential health hazard exists, or a prolonged closure after a problem has dissipated. An automated device could produce near real-time results at a fraction of the cost of physical sampling. Saffert hopes her work will help improve a public health issue, and says, "This fellowship gives me the chance to follow in the footsteps of previous URI researchers who became national leaders in improving microbial water quality and monitoring programs." Saffert’s major professor is David C. Smith, URI assistant professor of oceanography.

The National Sea Grant Industrial Fellowship, established in 1995, provides, in cooperation with specific companies, support for graduate students who are pursuing research and development projects of interest to a particular industry/company. Sea Grant is a federal-state partnership that promotes the wise use and development of marine resources for the public benefit.

Contact: Monica Allard Cox, Tel: 401-874-6937 E-mail:

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