Meet Peter Paolo Rivera, Newton Fund grant awardee.

Research topic: Sulfur Cycling in Harmful Algae ("Red Tide" causative organism)

Host institution / UK university: University of East Anglia

Home institution: University of the Philippines Diliman

Degree programme: PhD Biomolecular Science

Describe your PhD research in layman’s terms?

My research project means to understand the role/s of a sulfur-containing compound Dimethylsulfoniopropionate or “DMSP” in a fish-killing and harmful algal bloom-forming microorganism. DMSP is the main precursor to the climatically important gas dimethylsulfide (DMS). When DMS volatilizes from the ocean surface to the atmosphere, it promotes cloud formation, which blocks sun’s radiation and thereby cools sea surface temperatures. Large-scale blooms of these microorganisms may cause deleterious effects in the environment but they might also play a crucial role in the global sulfur cycle and climate cooling.

What is the relevance of your study to the economic development, welfare and poverty issues in the Philippines?

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) or “red tide” is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. In fact, HABs have caused several poisoning cases and economic losses particularly in the aquaculture industries due to fish kills in the last three decades. My research project used a fish-killing microalgae Prymnesium parvum (haptophyte) isolated from the Norfolk Broads as model organism. Apart from understanding the role/s of DMSP synthesis in P. parvum at the molecular level, I’m also interested in unraveling the mechanisms of toxin production that leads to a recurrent fish kill problem. This study uses a broad range of variables known to affect DMSP and toxin production. Data generated from this research will strengthen our ability to assess the effects of climate change on sulfur cycling and toxin release in the ocean. It will also help us design strategies that could help alleviate HAB associated socio-economic problems.

How do you envision your UK education can contribute to your future career as a researcher?

PhD training and supervision by academic researchers in the field of molecular microbiology here at UEA will help me gain new set of skills, broaden my research area, and carry out fundamental research of international excellence in the future. 

I may push forward the establishment of the links between the two universities in terms of research collaborations and broadening networks. It is essential for Philippine Higher Education Institutions to engage in a collaborative research relationship given the rapid changes in the socio-political, economic and cultural landscapes, and the desire of universities always to be the vanguard of teaching, research and extension work. I am hoping to maintain good collaboration between my home university and UEA despite the challenges that may come along the way.

How has the commitment of the UK in science and technology influence your decision in choosing the Newton Fund?

UK government has been clear in its commitment to collaborate with countries around the world in science, research and innovation. UK’s development assistance through the Newton Fund will ensure to build long lasting cooperation between the UK and the Philippines in science and technology.