Master of Science at Uppsala University (Sweden), participant of the seasonal expedition to the Akademik Vernadsky station, SCAR Fellowship recipient in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology (Bremen, Germany)
Research of microorganisms in marine waters — from the Black Sea to the Southern Ocean
Story of marine microbiologist Mariia Pavlovska
I had an extraordinary and non-trivial path to microbiology. Like every child, I dreamed of being an archaeologist, an architect, or a veterinarian. During my admission to the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, I chose two bachelor’s programs: philology and ecology. When I came to the admissions committee, they told me: “You know, ecologists have such exciting practices in the Carpathian mountains and Crimea peninsula.” As a sixteen-year-old, I thought: “Practices! This is amazing! Travels, mountains, seas — everything is so interesting.” And that’s how I got into ecology.
At the university, I immediately began to participate in actual research. That’s when I met Dyky Yevhen, who is now the head of the Antarctic Center. Back then, he was my teacher. That was Yevhen, who firstly interested me in science.
Ihor Dzeverin taught me the biology of invertebrates. I have always disliked invertebrates; they were so subjectively unpleasant to me. But I became interested in them precisely after Dzverin’s lectures.
At the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, I met people who were passionate about their subject. I was most interested in marine ecology, so I started working with Yevhen Dyky early. Already after the first course, I went to Kara-Dag in Crimea. Dyky was conducting his dissertation research, and I was helping him in sorting algae and participating in data analysis.
In the fall of the third course, there was an expedition to Zmiinyi Island. I lived on the island for several weeks, and we studied the sea there: marine mollusks, algae population, etc. After completing the bachelor’s program, I entered the master’s program at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, but it was more focused on environmental management.
I realized that I like classic ecology and biology more, so I found a program at Uppsala University in Sweden. I also participated in other research there, not only microbiological. I just tried different directions and talked to interesting people who led these directions.
After returning to Ukraine in 2016, I was offered to participate in the Emblas project. This project is devoted to monitoring various indicators of the Black Sea — and that’s when I actively started to engage in microbiology. Then there were many conferences, meetings, and cooperation with professionals in this field – and the further, the more interesting it became for me.
About research at the Akademik Vernadsky station
I didn’t want to just get to the Akademik Vernadsky station, and I didn’t even think I would get there. I have always loved marine biology and ecology in the Black Sea, but I wanted to travel further and explore new ecosystems and communities.
When Yevgeny Dykiy headed the Antarctic Center, he began to select people based on his previous experience – those who showed their activity and showed themselves well in terms of teamwork. At that time, I already had a lot of joint work with him: the international project “Emblas”, publications, etc. Eugene knew what I could do, so he offered to participate in Antarctic research.
I went to the Akademik Vernadsky station not immediately but only in the second year of work, having written a program for microbiological monitoring of marine ecosystems together with colleagues who study phytoplankton and microorganisms. This monitoring program would make it possible to obtain long-term data, as is brought, for example, by meteorologists.
Antarctica is the ecological pulse of the planet. Climate changes are very dynamic there, so it makes sense to have both studies of specific phenomena at a particular moment and long-term studies that record changes regularly. Our program was approved – that’s how I got to the Akademik Vernadsky station.
How did the full-scale war affect your work?
Of course, it is challenging to focus entirely on research because scientific work is intellectual and requires immersion. You can force yourself to work physically, but you cannot force yourself to work intellectually. But I’m slowly returning to work.
Now I try to participate in various projects with children, in popular science projects. There may be some measures along the Black Sea, on the shore, for apparent reasons.
I also have an international project with the Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology in Bremen. It is dedicated to the study of marine microorganisms that live in polar latitudes and their relationship with phytoplankton (single-celled algae): how they interact, how they affect each other’s dynamics, and how this generally affects the biochemistry of the ocean and other inhabitants of sea waters.
In parallel, I am working on dissertation research in the fourth year of my postgraduate studies. Despite the war, I manage almost everything on time. The research is based on the analysis of my favorite microorganisms: how they can determine the ecological state of the Black Sea, how they affect some anthropogenic ecological phenomena (for example, the breakdown of pollutants), and how it all affects the marine ecosystem in general.
The project on the Black Sea continues: we had selected samples on the way from the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean through the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Marmara Seas, the Bosphorus Strait, and all the way to the Black Sea. Based on these samples, we can identify the spread of antibiotic resistance agents in populations of microorganisms. We will analyze the spread of different fish species based on the so-called environmental DNA (DNA of organisms dissolved in water). This is my side project, and I help there precisely as a molecular biologist at the stage of molecular experiments.
At the same time, we do not give up hope of further exploring the Black Sea because now it is entirely closed for research.