Dispersing Knowledge with Dr. Hernando Bacosa

BACOSA, HERNANDO PDispersing knowledge with Dr. Hernando Bacosa

Dr. Hernando Bacosa is a post-doctoral fellow in the labs of both Dr. Deana Erdner and Dr. Zhanfei Liu at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. He recently presented his research on photooxidation and biodegradation of oil at a scientific seminar here on campus. Afterwards we had a chance to speak with him about his career and research.

Hernando was born and grew up in the Philippines, and he went to Mindanao State University in the Southern Philippines. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in biology, with the hopes of entering into medical school. He ended up not going to medical school, and instead worked at a research institute for two years. He then decided to attend graduate school in another country and applied for scholarships in Japan. After being granted a scholarship, he traveled to Japan in April of 2005. He spent his first six months there learning the language, immersing himself in Japanese culture, and working part-time in a research lab. He then worked for another half year in a lab before beginning graduate school at Tohoku University. Two years later, after taking all of his classes in Japanese, he graduated with a Masters of Science in environmental science with a focus on environmental chemistry and microbiology. His interest in environmental science and bioremediation of crude oil stemmed from his desire to solve the problems of the world, as he was affected by an oil spill in the Philippines when he was young. Hernando continued his graduate education at the same university, obtaining his PhD in three years. He then worked as a United Nations intern in Germany. Returning to Japan, he worked as a postdoc for two years. Although Hernando did all of his graduate education at one university, he recommends going to different schools to get a variety of experiences. He also recommends studying abroad in order to experience different cultures and challenges.

After finishing up his postdoc position in Japan, Hernando came to UTMSI. He saw that Dr. Erdner and Dr. Liu were looking for a postdoctoral fellow to conduct research similar to what he was doing in Japan and was excited to experience a new environment and world perspective. Hernando enjoys the perspective he has gained here in Port Aransas, and he says that his favorite thing to do here is garden. He loves the research that he does here, and he believes that studying the bacteria and how they degrade oil can be helpful in solving the problems that arise from an oil spill. After he finishes this postdoc, he says that he would love to obtain a position in which he gets the opportunity to interact with people very often. He would love to be a teacher, and he is open to travelling to yet another country to do so. He does see himself eventually ending up back where it all started, in the Phillipines.

Hernando’s seminar focused on the topics of biodegradation and photooxidation. One of his main research questions centers on determining the rate at which petroleum hydrocarbons are being degraded by bacteria. Others center on figuring out the environmental factors and the species of bacteria responsible for the degradation of these hydrocarbons. For one of his experiments, Hernando studied biodegradation and photooxidation of surface water by preparing samples of seawater containing varying amounts of crude oil and dispersant, exposing duplicates of those samples to dark and light conditions, and observing both the composition of the bacterial communities and the rate of degradation of alkanes and aromatic hydrocarbons. For the other experiment, Hernando took samples of deep sea sediments containing varying combinations of oil, dispersant, and overlying water and once again monitored both the bacterial community composition and the degradation of alkanes and aromatic hydrocarbons over a certain incubation period. Hernando found that in surface water, photooxidation from sunlight was the primary contributor to the degradation of aromatic hydrocarbons and bacteria were the primary contributors to the degradation of alkanes. He also found that in seafloor sediments, the primary contributors to the degradation of both alkanes and aromatic hydrocarbons were bacteria. Hernando’s results highlight the complexity of the situation caused by the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, and how there are no easy answers to addressing this major issue. When asked about the overall effects of using dispersant to assist in the breakdown of oil, he gave a similarly complex answer: “It [was] a good and a bad [decision].” He mentioned how the dispersant indeed assisted in the breakdown of complex hydrocarbons. However, the dispersant used also produced toxic radical forms of these hydrocarbons which have been found to be toxic to various plankton species and other small animals. Furthermore, the contents of the Corexit dispersant used were never revealed. Therefore, it may be a very long time before we have a clearer idea of its effects on the Gulf of Mexico.

In our short interview with Hernando, he implored every college student to follow their dreams, do what they love, and never let someone else dictate what they do or the decisions they make. Hernando ended our interview with this statement: “Once you love the things you are doing, everything else will fall into place.”

Please follow this link to gain access to the journal article that discusses the abovementioned research: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X15001939


Interviewed by Erin Hord, Kyle Logan, and Sierra Melton on July 24, 2015

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