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Inka Vanwonterghem’s interest in nature, ecology and STEMM led her to study BioScience/Environmental Engineering at Ghent University (Belgium). After completing her studies in 2011, she embarked on an adventure to the Land Down Under, aka Australia, where she started her PhD with Prof Gene Tyson at the Advanced Water Management Centre/Australian Centre for Ecogenomics (University of Queensland) on microbial ecology in anaerobic digestion. This project allowed Inka to enrich her background in environmental engineering with expertise in ecogenomics, and resulted in the discovery of a novel methanogenic phylum. After completing her PhD in 2015, Dr Vanwonterghem continued to do a postdoc at ACE with Prof Philip Hugenholtz on his ‘Tree of Life’ ARC laureate project. An interesting outcome of this work was a newfound understanding of the minimal nutritional requirements for microbial life in Antarctic deserts. Inka then proceeded to take a break from academia in order to pursue a lifelong dream of volunteering for wildlife conservation agencies across Australia and Africa. Upon returning to Belgium, she joined Prof Korneel Rabaey’s group at the Centre for Microbial Ecology and Technology (Ghent University), focussing on decentralised wastewater treatment technologies for developing countries and long-term space missions. However, Inka missed Australia's natural wonders and therefore returned to ACE to start a Postdoc with Prof Nicole Webster on impacts of climate change and anthropogenic pollution on coral reef microbial communities. Her long-term mission is to include microbial ecology in ecosystem restoration and translate research outcomes into sustainable solutions for conservation management.
Reef microbial symbiosis & environmental stress
Research within this program applies metagenomic and transcriptomic tools to deliver stakeholders with knowledge of how temperature, ocean acidification, nutrient enrichment and increased sedimentation influence the functional roles of marine microbial symbionts within their hosts. In this research program we also move beyond measuring specific thresholds and attempt to forecast the long term consequences of climate change and environmental stress for invertebrate populations.
This project is part of the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program - a partnership to help the Great Barrier Reef resist, adapt and recover. The aim of this project is to identify microorganisms involved in inducing settlement and metamorphosis of coral larvae and attempt to cultivate inductive taxa to produce a broad-spectrum larval settlement cue for use in coral aquaculture to support reef restoration.
Analysis of Ircinia ramosa host and symbiont transcriptomic responses to ocean warming and acidification to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underpinning this acclimatisation response.
This project will develop a unique molecular platform for deriving quantitative stress thresholds for microbial communities inhabiting key reef habitats (seawater, sediments, invertebrates).