The goal of the Ram laboratory is to provide a factual base for future action and an inventive spirit in finding solutions to human health and environmental problems, with a special focus on the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are a global resource for fresh water, transportation, recreation, ecosystem services, and biological diversity. This resource must be restored and protected.
With experience in micro-, molecular, and marine biology, the Ram laboratory is engaged in research dealing with biodiversity, invasive species, and microbial contamination. While the biota of the Great Lakes have undergone vast recent changes due to intentional and accidental introductions of non-native organisms, many of the diverse aquatic invertebrates that are potentially affected by these changes are surprisingly little described and understood. The laboratory has projects dealing with detection, identitification, physiology, and ecosystem function of both native and non-native Great Lakes invertebrates. Human health related significance of this research stems from the role in human health of aquatic disease vectors, such as mosquitos and their predators, microbial pathogens that may be encountered at beaches, and chemical contaminants that may be bioamplified differently in native and non-native impacted ecosystems. Past and ongoing projects include the physiology and diversity of invasive mussels (zebra mussels and others) and other aquatic invertebrates, application of DNA technologies to the detection and analysis of invasive species and pathogens, molecular tools for fish identification and restoration, and development of technologies to prevent invasive species from being discharged by ships into the Great Lakes. In the COVID-19 epidemic, the RamLab has been applying its molecular aquatic technologies to detect markers of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater. Wastewater detection of SARS-CoV-2 can give up to a week's early warning of new outbreaks in a community, a capability that may become increasingly important for detecting and breaking new outbreaks in the post-vaccine era.
In addition to research, the Ram Lab is highly involved in communicating science concepts about health and the environment to the public. We have conducted numerous educational outreach activities at the Belle Isle Aquarium where the Ram Lab has maintained a field station and created many informative displays, live exhibits, and K-12 field trip activities. The Belle Isle Aquarium is Detroit's public aquarium, located on Belle Isle, a Detroit island park in the Detroit River managed by the Michigan State Parks system.