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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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November 27, 2003


Oceanographer finds collaborative research rewarding
Six degrees of separation

Dr. Chris Parrish
Dr. Chris Parrish

By Deborah Inkpen
Dr. Chris Parrish is the epitome of the ever-increasing trend among university researchers to undertake collaborative multi-disciplinary work. Dr. Parrish, a former interim director of the Ocean Sciences Centre and cross-appointed in Chemistry and Biology, is working on numerous collaborations with other researchers in the areas of marine ecosystems, aquaculture and analytical chemistry.

“I find that I learn so much from working with students and faculty in other areas and even though someone else’s work is related to mine they are looking at it from a different angle,” said Dr. Parrish.

At the heart of Dr. Parrish’s research endeavours is the study of cold ocean lipids, which are the fats and oils marine life requires for survival. Lipids, found in phytoplankton at the bottom of the ocean’s food web, are extremely high in essential fatty acids. These polyunsaturated fatty acids, the Omega-3’s, are important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and for lowering triglyceride levels in humans, but also are crucial to the lifecycle of marine species like cod, crab and flounder.

Dr. Parrish looks at the production, transport, fate and effects of hydrophobic organic matter in food webs; molecular signatures or biomarkers of bacteria, algae, terrestrial plants and pollution; essential fatty acid nutrition and environmental impacts of aquaculture; and chromatographic techniques for lipids and continuous flow colorimetric techniques for inorganic nutrients.

Dr. Parrish is a member of one of Memorial’s largest collaborative research initiatives, Coasts Under Stress. He has been working with Dr. Joe Wroblewski on food webs and aquaculture in Labrador and northern British Columbia. The team of Environmental Science and Biology students have been comparing wild and cultured cod and scallops, and is looking at the footprint of aquaculture in coastal Canada.
Dr. Parrish has also working with Drs. Don Deibel and Ray Thompson on projects on the Conception Bay ecosystem.

“During the spring bloom the lipid fluxes are among the highest in the world,” said Dr. Parrish. “Before our studies here these fluxes could only be estimated from places like Chesapeake Bay and the equatorial North Atlantic, both of which would be in error by at least a factor of three.“

Dr. Parrish conducts research in aquaculture with the current OSC interim director, Dr. Joe Brown, most recently for AquaNet. The team has been looking at the early stages of life of Atlantic Halibut, striped wolfish, yellowtail flounder and Atlantic cod to try and increase survival by developing enriched feeds for farmed species and by focusing on the “critical survival periods” during the egg to juvenile production stage of each species. “We also have a new project with Dr. Deibel to look at culturing natural zooplankton as a food.”

Dr. Parrish has also been working with Drs. Thompson and Fereidoon Shahidi and Biology and Biochemistry students on the flavour and microbial qualities of blue mussels and giant scallops and has found that the essential fatty acids in the plankton correlated with growth. “One of these Omega-3 fatty acids was found to control the fluidity of cell membranes in scallops in response to cold.”

In addition to all his other research, Dr. Parrish is working on an examination of lipids in Leach’s Storm Petrels with Dr. Bill Montevecchi. Storm petrels are the smallest and most abundant seabird breeding in the northwest Atlantic and more than half the world’s population nests on islands on Newfoundland’s coast. Once chicks hatch, parents undertake continuous foraging trips and return to the colony at night with a partially digested slurry of prey and stomach oil.

“The stomach oil has been shown to be an excellent source of calories that also produces high amounts of heat and water,” explained Dr. Parrish. “Lipids were extracted from stomach regurgitates, bird tissue and prey items in order to examine the diet and to compare males and females, and parents and chicks.

“We are also hoping to look at hydrocarbon pollution using these same samples.”

Dr. Parrish’s collaborative spirit to work with others somewhat mirrors the marine food chain, each species working in concert to support the ecosystem.

“I am fortunate to have worked with graduate students in many different programs: aquaculture, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, cognitive and behavioural ecology and environmental science.”


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Next issue: December 11, 2003

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