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Moss Landing Marine Laboratories Student Wins CSU Statewide Research Competition

May 16, 2013 - 10:00am

by Brynn Hooton-Kaufman

The California State University’s top award for graduate student research in Biological and Agricultural Sciences was given to Brian Maurer of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ Biological Oceanography Lab.  This year’s competition was held May 10th and 11th at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.  Maurer was one of three graduate students from San Jose State University at the statewide event. 

Maurer collects ballast water samples as another student observes.

The twenty-seventh annual CSU competition gave awards in 10 categories for student excellence in scholarly research and creative activity.  Maurer presented his research on the optimization of bulk FDA, a water quality analysis technique developed for ballast water testing by his advisor, Dr. Nick Welschmeyer.  Maurer has improved the method, which is critical for both scientific and public sectors, as it provides a way to determine if living organisms are present in water samples.    

Bulk FDA uses a compound − fluorescein diacetate (FDA) − to measure cellular enzyme activity and quantify living biomass.   FDA is a non-fluorescent compound that can pass freely into live and dead cells.  In live cells, esterase enzymes break FDA, making it glow green and allowing for detection.  Most importantly, esterases are present in all living cells, from bacteria to humans, but degrade rapidly in cells that have died.

Detecting and quantifying living organisms in water is important for many industries, from municipalities monitoring waste, grey, and drinking water, to shipping firms discharging ballast water.   Prior methods for doing so were costly, unreliable, labor-intensive, or restricted to a specific group of organisms.   Maurer’s improvements to the method are significant - maximizing sensitivity, precision, and simplicity, quickly and at low-cost.  And, the technique can detect all living things.

 “Brian has done a fantastic job adding critical improvements to our method,” said Dr. Welschmeyer.  “The technique is sensitive, stable and most importantly, simple enough that new users, including ship’s crew, can execute the method on board ship, with no need for laboratory facilities.” 

Maurer received a cash prize of $500 for his First Place award.  Today he defends his master’s thesis on the optimization of bulk FDA, graduating this semester from Moss Landing Marine Labs and San Jose State University.   

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories is the graduate program in marine science for California State Universities East Bay, Fresno, Monterey Bay, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose and Stanislaus.  To learn more information about MLML and Brian Maurer, visit


Brynn Hooton-Kaufman, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.  (831) 771-4464  bhooton [at] mlml [dot] calstate [dot] edu