Post-doctoral researcher Tyler Carrier, 28, is currently conducting research as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Kiel University and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. In this interview, American-born Tyler talks about his work, career, and the challenges of his research stay in Germany. The interview was conducted by Professor Thomas Bosch, Head of CRC 1182, in a guest article for unizeit.
Thomas Bosch: You are currently researching symbiotic life in the ocean on sea urchin larvae. How did you choose this research area?
Tyler Carrier: I've always known I wanted to research marine animals. In my broad study of marine sciences, I liked the zoology of invertebrates best. Sea urchins really caught my eye because the larvae are beautiful, and they go through an incredible development programme. I became fascinated by the way these larvae develop in the open ocean and how they find their way back to the seabed again. And I was quite surprised that they have numerous microbes in their tissue. I also began to wonder whether these microbes help the larvae to develop in the water column.
What are your main new findings on the life and biology of sea urchin larvae?
One of the greatest evolutionary benefits of the symbiotic way of life was that animals were able to develop a gut. That provides the perfect environment for microbes. The main question in my recent work was what happens to this microbial community when the gut is lost again in the development cycle of a living being. We found that in this case, there is a reduction in the different types of microbes and their abundance in host organisms. This also fits well with the theory that these microbial communities probably formed when these animals developed a gut.
Your works transcends the boundaries of various disciplines. How important is interdisciplinary work?
I studied marine sciences in a group of aquaculture researchers and molecular marine ecologists and oceanography researchers, where there were always plenty of exchanges. This really did inspire plenty of new ideas. I then completed my doctorate in a broad-based biology department. The various research projects each had an entirely different perspective on a scientific question that one may perhaps not yet be familiar with, but that offered valuable information for one's own work. This can lead to really fascinating new results.
You left the USA in the middle of the corona pandemic and came to Kiel. What challenges did you face?
So many people made it possible at all. You (Thomas Bosch) and Ute Hentschel Humeida are probably the two most important. Most of the struggles were with the bureaucratic formalities concerning my legal residence status in Germany. At the same time, I also had to find out where the pipettes are kept in the lab and where I can find my research object in the sea here.
What do young researchers need to bring with them to reach the next career level that you are currently at?
First of all, you just have to try a lot of different things. I started in aquaculture. There I worked with sea urchins, bred anemone fish for a summer course, developed an interest in the ocean, and also researched diseases and biomechanics for a while – just to see what I actually liked. And the second thing is to accept is that you can't succeed with everything you do. Any researcher will tell you that the first thing you need to expect is failure, not success. And that it doesn't say anything about the quality of a scientist.
How will symbiosis research develop over the next five years?
I think that the most important answers are probably to be found where life processes are influenced by microbes, although this influence wasn't previously known. What immediately springs to my mind are the big changes in the life cycle of an animal that we used to think were host-controlled mechanisms. But these changes in developmental processes can be caused by bacteria, and may have much less to do with the host. I wouldn't be surprised if symbiosis research were to flourish where it comes to considering the major transitions in an animal's life.
Dr Tyler Carrier is a Humboldt Research Fellow at the CAU's Zoological Institute and the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. Prior to that, he completed his PhD in biology at the University of North Carolina/USA. His research into the influence of microorganisms on the development process of marine invertebrates is part of the Collaborative Research Centre "Origin and Function of Metaorganisms" (CRC 1182). He is involved both in the working group Cell and Developmental Biology (headed by Professor Thomas Bosch) at Kiel University and in the GEOMAR research unit Marine Symbioses (headed by Professor Ute Hentschel Humeida).
The full interview is available as a video in English here:
Collaborative Research Centre 1182 "Origin and Function of Metaorganisms", CAU: