NSF Award for Vivienne Foroughirad

Feb 24, 2016

Congratulations to Duke University Marine Science and Conservation PhD student – and iiD Data Expeditions participant – Vivienne Foroughirad. She’s been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to pursue research that seeks to understand the evolution of complex social and cognitive traits in wild bottlenose dolphins via next-generation sequencing of the mitochondrial genome.

Foroughirad’s research is also part of Data Expeditions, and one of the few that includes Phase I and Phase II development. Phase I was a single class module to be taught to undergraduates. Foroughirad’s Phase I was such a success as a course module that it has now become a Phase II course module, which is a permanent part of future courses.

“Not only does Vivienne get recognition for her great research, but undergrads at Duke will also benefit from seeing her research in an undergrad class,” says Robert Calderbank, Director of the Information Initiative at Duke.

Foroughirad’s NSF project will take advantage of work being performed by the Shark Bay Dolphin Project, a 30-year longitudinal study of bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia that offers demographic and behavioral data on over 1,800 individuals. Foroughirad plans to expand the genomic sequencing being conducted on the bottlenose dolphins. She will use social network analysis in conjunction with genetics to quantify how interactions between individuals translate into fitness benefits such as information from social learning and fitness costs such as disease.

“This project will be the first to use next-generation sequencing of mitochondrial DNA to examine the fine-scale population structure and evolutionary history of a wild mammal,” Foroughirad explained in her grant application. “It will provide me, as a fellow, with training and facilities to conduct research into three of the fastest growing fields in biology—genomics, wildlife epidemiology, and network analysis.”