UWF and three other State University System of Florida institutions partner to test a model for oyster metabolites and Vibrio bacteria

A research team composed of faculty from the University of West Florida, the Florida Institute of Technology, Florida Gulf Coast University and New College of Florida were recently awarded $200,000 from the Gulf of Mexico Alliance for their project, “An AI-Directed Tool Development for Pathogenic ‘Flesh-eating’ Vibrio Bacteria Prediction and Control.”

Starting this summer, Dr. Lisa Waidner, an assistant professor in the UWF Department of Biology and a member of the Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, along with a graduate student and undergraduate students, will analyze local waters and oysters for abundances of Vibrio vulnificus, often associated with the “flesh-eating” disease, necrotizing fasciitis. Waidner’s lab has developed techniques that enable students to use molecular biology and microbiology to enumerate specific groups of bacteria. The model to be developed by the multi-institutional team will also consider other factors such as oyster metabolites, seagrass coverage, salinity and water temperature. Waidner says warmer water temperatures could lead to a greater opportunity for bacteria to reproduce, resulting in higher levels of Vibrio.

“With warmer waters and the greater frequency of storms and intense storms, you see more of these pathogenic bacteria,” Waidner said. “The particular bacteria we will measure are in the species often seen in news stories where vulnerable people lose limbs.”

Though infections are rare and most are minor, they can be deadly for those who are immunocompromised. Researchers and students from FIU, FGCU and NCF will also test samples in their areas and contribute to laboratory and data analyses. Those involved in the project hope to mitigate challenges in prediction of increased Vibrio loads in estuaries where oysters reside and where humans may encounter potential pathogens. The project will be ongoing over the next few years. 

The grant resulted from the collaboration of four faculty members who met while participating in a $300,000 National Science Foundation project that funded research support staff from several Florida universities to do researcher “matchmaking,” creating interdisciplinary teams of faculty from across the state. Each of the teams focused on a Florida-based environmental challenge and received professional development support in their idea development and grant-seeking.

For more information about the UWF Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation, visit