Phillip Cleves, Ph.D.


Phillip Cleves, Ph.D.

Using gene editing to study the genetic basis of symbiosis and bleaching in corals

Coral reefs are critically important for sustaining coastal fisheries, providing habitat for ocean biodiversity, and buffering shorelines from waves and storm surges. Yet, as oceans continue to warm due to climate change, bleaching events—in which stressed corals lose the photosynthetic algae that allow them to obtain nutrition from sunlight—are becoming increasingly common. Although some corals recover from bleaching, many starve and die, which results in the mass degradation of coral reef ecosystems.

As the first recipient of the Pew Marine and Biomedical Science Fellowship, Phillip Cleves will use cutting-edge gene editing methods to gain key insights about the genetic factors that control and maintain symbiosis in reef-building corals. He will also use these techniques to investigate the genetic factors that contribute to and protect against coral bleaching. This information will enable better predictions of how climate change affects coral reefs and will provide an evidence base to support novel coral conservation strategies, such as the screening, selection, and propagation of bleaching-resistant coral populations in reef restoration efforts.

To learn more about Cleves, read his bio

See the full list of 2023 Pew marine fellows.

Photo credit: Navid Marvi
In a white-walled lab with violet-hued lighting in the background, Phillip Cleves looks at several rows of clear tanks that are filled about halfway with water. Light blue translucent hoses, each connected to a PVC pipe with a bright blue plastic valve, are inserted in a small hole in the lid on each of the tanks.
Phillip Cleves, the first recipient of the Pew Marine and Biomedical Science Fellowship, observes corals and anemones in his lab.
Navid Marvi

Search Pew Scholars