2014 Dean's Lecture Winner Dr. Ron Kiene
Residents on the Gulf Coast know the power and beauty the ocean holds. Dr. Ronald Kiene’s love of the ocean centers on its impact for sustaining everyday life.
A Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences and Senior Marine Scientist III at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Kiene was awarded the Olivia Rambo McGlothren National Alumni Outstanding Scholar Award by the USA National Alumni Association in 2014. He also delivered the Dean’s Lecture at the Waterman Globe in the Mitchell Center for the College of Arts & Sciences in October 2014.The Olivia Rambo McGlothren award honors a full-time faculty member who has been at USA for at least five years for her or his excellence and high achievements in an academic discipline.
Throughout his 22 years teaching as USA, Kiene has actively participated and contributed to numerous research projects and publications. The majority of his research focuses on the role of microorganisms in the cycling of organic matter and important elements such as sulfur and nitrogen in aquatic systems. “I really love trying to understand Nature,” Kiene said. “In particular I love to try to figure out how microbes interact with their environment and transform chemicals that influence the larger ecosystem and even the Earth system as a whole.”
In February 2014, he was part of a research group affiliated with the University of Georgia at Athens that was awarded a new $2 million National Science Foundation grant, allowing them to further document how genes in ocean microbes transform sulfur into clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere. This team of marine scientists worked off of the Georgia coast, learning more about marine organisms and compounds they produce called osmolytes to balance salinity outside the cells. Kiene focused on marine phytoplankton that produce sulfur osmolyte called dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). Once released into seawater from the cells, bacteria degrade this compound, using two different pathways. One keeps the sulfur from DMSP in the ocean, and the other creates a sulfur gas that escapes into the atmosphere to become a key component of cloud condensation nuclei. The marine scientists utilized an autonomous ocean-going instrument, able to contain a miniaturized molecular laboratory in the ocean, all while taking in water, extracting DNA from cells, analyzing DNA, and sending the information back to shore via a radio modem. The results from the ocean-going instrument were successful as the group caught an example of DMSP pathway regulation as it occurred for the first time ever. Kiene and his fellow scientists plan to use the NSF grant for future deployments.
When informed he was the recipient of the McGlothren award, Kiene was surprised but honored. He credits his hard work and success to the USA Marine Sciences program and his students. Kiene, originally from Brooklyn, New York, received his Doctorate from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Before teaching at USA, he was a faculty member at the University of Georgia Marine Institute in Athens, Georgia. When he is not at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Kiene enjoys spending time with his family. His hobbies include fishing, watching baseball with his sons, and woodworking.