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Professor’s Research Protects, Restores Marine Ecosystems

UM professor Marc Slattery Courtesy Ole Miss News
UM professor Marc Slattery
Courtesy Ole Miss News

Marc Slattery was trained as a marine biologist, so pharmacy may have been somewhat foreign when he was hired at the University of Mississippi. Two decades later, however, his efforts have made quite a splash at the School of Pharmacy.

The professor of pharmacognosy got his start at the school under the direction of associate dean emeritus Charles Hufford.

“I wasn’t a traditional pharmacist, but I came here and found collaborations I normally wouldn’t have and applications for my work that I would have never really considered,” Slattery said.

When Slattery is not teaching medical microbiology to undergraduates and chemical ecology to graduate students, he is working in the field; more specifically, the water.

Slattery’s enthusiasm for chemical ecology and natural products has taken him all over the world – from the Bahamas to Antarctica and many places in between. Through deep reef dives, he has studied the effects of climate change on sponges and hybrid soft corals and has worked to replenish their populations.

Slattery’s primary focus at the school is Environmental Toxicology Research Program. Some of his latest and most compelling work has been focused on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

With Hurricane Katrina’s 10th anniversary coming to a close, and the aftereffects of the 2010 BP oil spill revealed, Slattery has spent a lot of time using his environmental toxicology skills to collect data on coastal communities and plan for their future. While Katrina and the oil spill had different effects, they both changed the landscape of the coast’s reefs.

“It’s really interesting to look at Katrina versus the oil spill in terms of oysters,” Slattery said. “Even though Katrina was a huge disaster, it had an immediate impact. With Katrina, the population went down for a year and then came back. The oil spill impacts certainly appear to be much longer and more damaging.”

Slattery and his team have several proposals out for conservation and restoration of the coast’s oyster reefs. Slattery’s passion goes beyond his research. He said he has enjoyed giving back to the university community through teaching and outreach. To give his students as much field experience as possible, he heavily involves students in research projects.

“Giving back to my students, whether it’s teaching them, taking them to the field or providing scholarships, just makes sense for me,” Slattery said. “It’s important.”

Another aspect of Slattery’s teaching includes helping students understand the critical nature of their research and how it affects the community.

“Many places that we go into the field are somebody else’s backyard,” he said. “Many of them are not in the United States, and they are very poor. Helping my students to understand what these areas’ resources are and how to preserve them is important. I train my students to be ready for this as part of their job.”

His love for students, as well as his love for the School of Pharmacy, has driven Slattery to give back through donations to the school. He was inspired by one of his mentors and former environmental toxicology colleagues, William H. Benson, who recently had a scholarship endowed in his name.

“I wouldn’t be as successful as I am without the people in the Environmental Toxicology Research Program, my colleagues in the Department of BioMolecular Sciences, and even the administration has been really supportive of me and my research,” Slattery said. “They’ve allowed me to succeed. I don’t know that I could get that anywhere else. I’m incredibly grateful for all that the school has given me, and I feel very strongly about giving back.”

Courtesy Gabrielle Gero & Ole Miss News

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