Pete Kahn

Pete Kahn


What degree are you pursuing?

I am pursuing a Ph.D. in Environmental Science & Engineering in the Estuary and Ocean Systems track. 

 Who is (are) your advisors?

My advisor Is Peter Zuber, with additional advisement from Tawnya PetersonLydie Herfort, and Byron Crump.

What is the focus of your research?

I study the genetics and diversity of protists in the Columbia River coastal margin. Protists are eukaryotic microorganisms that play important roles in energy transfer and nutrient transformations in aquatic food webs. In particular I focus on the heterotrophic protists, an important yet often poorly characterized part of the aquatic food web that occupy a crucial link between the primary producers, the microbial loop, and higher trophic levels. I use molecular and microscopic techniques to characterize the seasonal and spatial distribution of protist assemblages across the river-to-ocean continuum and to develop specific markers to monitor ecologically relevant protists.

How will your research benefit society?

Protist populations often exhibit dramatic and rapid responses to fluctuations or perturbations in environmental conditions, and as such are an ideal group to monitor ecosystem change. Protist responses to major environmental shifts, such as warming ocean temperatures and changes to river flow and water quality from intensified land use, are unclear, but trends such as changes in primary productivity and loss of biodiversity are likely to have cascading effects up the food web that could threaten ecologically and economically important species. By improving estimates of protist diversity and developing markers to track their distribution, we can further elucidate their role in aquatic ecosystems and monitor their populations as a tool for tracking ecosystem response to environmental changes and management of aquatic resources.

How have you taken advantage of professional development opportunities
through OHSU and the Institute of Environmental Health?

I have been involved with outreach programs such as Saturday Academy, where I’ve taught several microbiology and environmental science courses to middle and high schoolers. I’ve also attended and presented at several national and international scientific conferences, and have mentored high school and undergraduate interns on their own research projects.

What do you plan to do with your degree?

I love aquatic and environmental research, so I plan to pursue a career that allows me to continue in this field in a government, private industry, or academic setting, and hopefully here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!