LSU Microbiologist Awarded One of 10 National Academies of Sciences Fellowships

J. Cameron Thrash recognized for his research on Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River microorganisms

J. Cameron ThrashBATON ROUGE – The National Academies of Sciences has awarded LSU Department of Biological Sciences Assistant Professor J. Cameron Thrash one of the 10 prestigious Early-Career Research Fellowships in the Gulf Research Program. The fellowship supports emerging scientists as they take risks on research ideas not yet tested, pursue unique collaborations and build a network of colleagues who share their interest in the well-being of coastal communities and ecosystems.

“The talented and promising researchers and professionals receiving these awards will add to a growing network of future leaders in the science, engineering and health professions that can work together to tackle the complex, interdisciplinary challenges that face the Gulf Coast and other coastal regions. The ultimate impact of these fellows will extend far beyond the lengths of their fellowship terms,” said Maggie Walser, director of education and capacity building for the Gulf Research Program.

Thrash is a microbiologist who studies the roles of microorganisms in different regions of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. The Gulf of Mexico is vitally important to the international economies of petroleum and food production. It also experiences frequent man-made and natural disturbances. The Mississippi River receives inputs from the fourth largest watershed in the world and is one of the largest global rivers both in terms of length and discharge. Human activity and engineering efforts heavily impact this river. However, the microbiology of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River has been understudied compared to other coastal and aquatic systems.

Thrash’s research has generated the first systematic microbial baseline data for an important coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico. It has also generated more than 400 pure cultures of microorganisms native to the region, which is the largest collection of its kind for the Gulf of Mexico.

“This data now allows us to evaluate how disturbances alter microbial communities beyond their natural variation, which has direct application to the detection of pollution such as that from leaking petroleum production infrastructure,” Thrash said. “Furthermore, our culture collection facilitates testing to determine which microbes can be useful in remediation. By combining microorganisms in culture, we can also generate synthetic communities to enhance cleanup efforts.”

With support from the National Academies of Sciences fellowship, Thrash will build upon his current research to characterize some of the most abundant microbes in cultures, which may be capable of hydrocarbon degradation, and experiment with how mixing communities of multiple microbes will affect each other’s behavior in metabolizing various pollutants. He will also begin development of a protocol for near real-time detection and characterization of microbial communities responding to contamination from pollutants like hydrocarbons.

The National Academies of Sciences Gulf Research Fellowship program awards tenure-track faculty $76,000 paid to their institution in the form of a two-year grant for research expenses and professional development.

“My primary goals in that time all involve synthesizing our ecological, physiological and genomic data to determine the functional roles of the most abundant organisms in the interconnected northern Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi River system,” Thrash said.

National Academies of Sciences Gulf Research Program

The Gulf Research Program, a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, was established in 2013 as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas.  The program funds grants, fellowships, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.  To learn more about the Gulf Research Program, including fellowships and other funding opportunities, visit More information about the 2017 Gulf Research Program fellows is available at

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit


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National Academies of Sciences Gulf Research Program’s 2017 Early-Career Research and Science Policy Fellowships:



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