Celebrating Noah Khalsa, BLaST Scientist of the Month for September 2019

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By Amy Topkok

Khalsa is a third year BLaST Scholar and a senior at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF). He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fisheries and ocean sciences with a minor in marine science. He grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, but attended boarding school in Amritsar, India during sixth grade, and then a year in Tucson, Arizona. His future plans include attending graduate school and pursuing a degree in quantitative fisheries science. When not in the field or at school, Khalsa enjoys fishing, playing hockey, and outdoor adventures.

As a BLaST Scholar, Khalsa (pictured to the left) has participated in a variety of research projects that fall into the One Health paradigm. Since his freshman year, he has worked with environmental DNA (eDNA) to map the under-ice overwintering locations of juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and evaluate its cost-effectiveness in remote locations under the harsh field conditions of Alaskan winters in comparison with traditional sampling methods. He presented a poster during the 2018 Western Division American Fisheries Society Conference. During the summer of 2019, Khalsa deployed oceanographic instrumentation that measured pH, salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen at fyke net (pictured right, photo credits) of locations used to sample fish for a long-term ecological research program in the Beaufort Sea, Alaska. This data will generate new information on the high-frequency in-situ multivariate oceanographic time-series for the coastal Arctic Ocean.

Khalsa has interned under the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, a tribal organization, and participated in two STEMSEAS cruises aboard the R/V Sikuliaq, during one of which he was a teaching assistant. He is currently preparing a first author publication, and will present the paper at the 2019 American Fisheries Society-The Wildlife Society joint National Conference in Reno, Nevada. When completed, his senior thesis should significantly advance the field’s understanding of nearshore Arctic oceanography and its influence on fish communities.

Khalsa’s primary mentor on the Chinook salmon eDNA project has been J. Andrés López, Ph.D., a past BLaST Faculty Pilot Project (FPP) awardee. López is an associate professor of fisheries and curator of the fish collection at the Museum of the North on the UAF Campus. Under López’s guidance, Khalsa experienced his first lab environment and learned real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) techniques. He has also been mentored by Amanda Kelley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marine biology. While working with Kelley, he learned how to conduct western blot protein assays, use oceanographic instrumentation, and analyze large data-sets. Khalsa has also worked with Anne-Lise Ducluzeau, Ph.D., a BLaST postdoc and expert on using the Oxford Nanopore MinION, a portable tool used for real-time DNA and RNA sequencing, while they were aboard the R/V Sikuliaq. Together they worked to sequence eDNA samples at sea. Another of Khalsa’s mentors has been his BLaST Research Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP), Emily Sousa.

“Much of my research advances understanding of using novel methods such as eDNA monitoring in the state of Alaska, fisheries ecology, and how climate change will impact coastal Arctic ecosystems and fishes. All of these help to improve our understanding of how fisheries may change in the future,” Khalsa said. “These knowledge advances are paramount for adaptive management. Given that many Alaskan communities rely on healthy ecosystems and fish populations, my work directly affects the well-being of local people and stakeholders.”

 

BLaST Scholar Jennie Humphrey (l), with BLaST PI Arleigh Reynolds (m) and Noah Khalsa (r), at Humphrey and Khalsa’s Sikuliaq presentation at UAF, April 24, 2019. Photo credit: Amy Topkok, BLaST staff.

 

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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