Kristen Lycett

Participant: PROMISE AGEP Research Symposium

Kristen Lycett
: Department of Natural Science
Institution: University of Maryland Eastern Shore



Protecting the blue crab through molecular biology

Variation in the genetic code of organisms allows scientists to distinguish between different species and even individuals of the same species. This is especially useful for microscopic organisms where visual differences might be hard to distinguish. Microscopic organisms make up a large part of the Earth’s biomass and can include both helpful species such as the E. coli bacteria that live in the human digestive tract and harmful species, such as the aquatic parasite Hematodinium perezi. This parasite infects the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, and can cause extremely high mortality rates in infected crabs.

Through targeted DNA amplification, our lab is able to detect this microscopic parasite in water and sediments, allowing us to investigate the presence of the parasite in the environment. Currently, the life cycle of the parasite when not infecting the host crab is unknown, as is how the crab picks up the infection. By investigating the environmental presence of the parasite, we can begin to understand what conditions favor the parasite and transmission of the infection to host crabs.

Our research indicates that the parasite may be a common, year-round member of the phytoplankton community and is frequently detected in months when crabs are over-wintering. This is contrary to the current belief that the parasite is only present when host crabs are available and that the free-living stage of the parasite is short lived.



Kristen Lycett was born and raised in southern Oregon. She is a member of the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe, one of 9 federally recognized tribes in the state of Oregon.

In high school, she was an active student athlete, participating in volleyball, track and field, cross country and softball. During her senior year, she was a National Merit Finalist and recipient of the Bowdoin College National Merit Scholarship for her freshman year of college.

After her freshman year, she transferred to Oregon State University to pursue Marine Biology. During her time at OSU, she was a student employee at the Native American Longhouse and was also the President of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society from 2005 to 2008 and an active member of the Native American Student Association.

She graduated from Oregon State University in 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science with a specialization in Aquatic Biology and a Bachelors of Fine Art in Applied Visual Arts.

After graduation, she moved to Baltimore, Maryland and began working for the Living Classrooms Foundation where she taught students of all ages about sailing and Chesapeake Bay ecology.

In 2011, she was accepted to the Marine Estuarine Environmental Science program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore as a Masters student and became a PhD student in 2014. She is funded through the National Science Foundation as part of the UMES Center of Research Excellence in Science and Technology (CREST) Program..



The UMES CREST program supports 5 distinct research projects with the overall goal of understanding the complex ecology of the Maryland Coastal Bays and the influence of climate change and pollution on this system.

One aspect of this is the environmental presence of a dinoflagellate parasite, Hematodinium perezi, in the coastal bays. This parasite has been known to infect a variety of crustacean species in the region. These infections have been associated with mortality events in the blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, a commercially and culturally important species. Little is known about the ecology of the parasite outside the host, in particular the means of infection transmission.

This research is performed with the help of the National Park Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Environmental samples are collected monthly with the National Park Service and crabs are collected with the Maryland DNR during monthly biodiversity surveys.

Many of the sub-estuaries in the coastal bay system are environmentally degraded, meaning sub-optimal condition for aquatic organisms may exist. Environmental stress has been recognized as being detrimental to blue crab health, but its relation to disease status has not been extensively explored. During the course of this study, we hope to learn more about the geographical distribution and environmental conditions that favor the proliferation of the parasite. This will allow us to better predict when and where the parasite will occur and identify regions that may promote higher infections within the host blue crab.


  1. NOAA Educational Partnership Program. Princess Anne, MD. November 2014.
  2. Joint Aquatic Sciences Meeting. Portland, OR. May 2014.
  3. National Shellfisheries Association. Jacksonville, FL. March 2014.
  4. American Society of Limnology and Oceanography. New Orleans, LA. February 2013.
  5. Molecular Parasitology Meeting. Woods Hole, MA. September 2012.

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