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
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