Studying brittle stars with British Antarctic Survey

Marine Biology and Oceanography student Adriana Giles tells us about her six month placement with British Antarctic Survey (BAS).


Biodiversity is vital

"High biodiversity is incredibly important for the sustainment and resilience of an eco-system and loss of biodiversity is a leading global concern.

 "Understanding the relationships between species and their geographical distribution is important because the more the information we have, the better we can implement legislation and policies leading to their protection. 

"With many people at BAS working on a great range of organisms, a bigger picture can be formed to help influence our future."

Studying South Pole sea creatures

"In my placement with BAS at Cambridge, I am studying brittle stars (ophiuroids). Using morphological and molecular analysis, we are studying the native Antarctic/Sub-Antarctic Genus Ophiacantha, including O. vivipara, O. wolfarntzi, and O. pentactis, to look at evolutionary biology and population genetics. 

"Our theory is that O. vivipara, which seems to have different morphotypes of varying arm number, is actually split into different population clades around the Antarctic. Looking at the brooding young, which is a life history supposedly found only in O. vivipara and O. wolfarntzi, we are trying to determine where they are located."

<p>brittle star</p>
<p>brittle star</p>

From lectures to the lab

"A module from my degree called ‘Biology of Marine Organisms’ has helped me a lot with my research so far as it covered the morphology and physiology of many different taxa, including Echinodermata, which is the Phyla I am focusing on at BAS. Throughout my placement, I will be learning new laboratory skills, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), and molecular analysis. 

"Currently, while looking through my samples, I have observed a few interesting features and characteristics that we are planning to investigate. 

"There is the possibility of obtaining data that could be used for publication; but first we need to statistically analyse our dataset so nothing is definitive yet."

A love for marine life

"My initial interest in marine biology was sparked due to my parents taking me to the aquarium at the age of 4, my mother says I saw scuba divers in the tank and told her point blank that I was going to do that one day. 

"It is my aspiration to one day visit Antarctica and witness the native biodiversity there but first I'd like to complete a Masters degree after my undergraduate in Marine Biology and Oceanography. 

"The end goal for me would be a position focusing on polar research, as this placement has emphasised my love for the sub-zero!"


Adriana is studying Marine Biology and Oceanography at Plymouth

This course studies the biology and ecology of the marine realm, with a focus on offshore and deep-sea ecosystems. In the 2019 National Student Survey, all of the student respondents said the course is intellectually stimulating and 100% expressed overall satisfaction with the course.