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Kapuscinski Honored with World's Preeminent Marine Conservation Award

Anne Kapuscinski

Anne Kapuscinski, professor of fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology and Minnesota Sea Grant's fisheries and biotechnology extension educator, was chosen as one of ten Pew Marine Conservation Fellows for 2001. The prestigious fellowship is an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts and operated in partnership with the New England Aquarium. It honors exceptional leadership in applying and communicating sound ocean science and includes a three-year, $150,000 award to support projects that tackle urgent conservation challenges.

"I plan to use the Pew fellowship to improve the ecological basis of federal regulations regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) released into marine environments," said Kapuscinski. She also intends to help GMO industries become more responsible for ensuring the ecological safety of their products and to provide policy-makers, regulators, and the media with scientific information on connections between marine biotechnology and marine biodiversity through the Internet.

Kapuscinski was among the first to discover gaps in the U.S. government's oversight of transgenic fish and to present the scientific rationale for addressing the ecological risks of aquatic GMOs. She has provided congressional testimony on environmental releases of GMOs and led a national committee to develop the world's first guidelines for assessing and reducing the risks of genetically modified fish and shellfish. Kapuscinski is a member of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture's Advisory Committee on Agricultural Biotechnology, the founding director of the University's Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability, and the associate director of the MacArthur Interdisciplinary program on Global Change, Sustainability and Justice. Her research has produced genetic markers to determine the effects of stocking hatchery fish and to identify strains of regionally important fish.

"The Pew Fellows program recognizes exemplary individuals with unique vision, exceptional problem-solving skills, and innovative ideas to advance marine conservation," said Cynthia Robinson, associate director of the program. "The Pew Fellowships are an investment in their ingenuity to find viable solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing our oceans. Successful results of their efforts will have profound long-term implications for improved ocean policies at national, regional, and international levels."

Kapuscinski joins an Italian biologist investigating dolphin deaths in the Mediterranean, a Russian lawyer challenging oil and gas development in the Caspian Sea, a marine biologist from the Philippines who specializes in coral reefs and six other professionals dedicated to marine conservation in this honor.

And There's More!

Under the direction of Kapuscinski, the Institute for Social, Economic, and Ecological Sustainability (ISEES) received one of only five grants awarded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through a new competitive grants program. USAID created the Biotechnology and Bio-diversity Interface program to encourage biosafety research and risk management strategies in developing countries. ISEES will receive $425,000 for the four-year project, Thailand Transgenic Fish and Biodiversity Program: Risk Assessment Research and Capacity Building. The project will generate scientific data on the risks that commercially producing transgenic talapia might pose to fish biodiversity. The project will also build the capacity among scientists, regulators, and environmental leaders of Thailand and neighboring countries to conduct science-based risk assessment and govern safe uses of genetically engineered organisms.

In August, Kapuscinski and her colleagues at ISEES also received a $15,000 contract through the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology to craft a scientific and policy report on genetically modified aquatic organisms in the U.S. The report will review the state of transgenic aquatic species development, focusing on fish and options for their effective management in the United States.

Kapuscinski is also collaborating with William Muir and Richard Howard, professors at Purdue University, to test a simulation model to assess the likelihood and consequences of gene flow from fish engineered with extra growth hormone genes to wild relatives. Kapuscinski will lead the empirical tests of the model's predictions in which genetically modified Japanese medaka will be introduced to wild-type populations established in simplified ecosystems within large indoor tanks. This research is supported by a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

By Sharon Moen
December 2001

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