Partnerships & Philanthropy

TAMUG Scientist Talks Harvey, Microbes at Texas City Petroleum Refinery


On Wednesday, April 4th, Texas A&M University at Galveston professor, Dr. Jessica Labonté, spoke at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Texas City at a “Lunch and Learn” event to raise awareness of local environmental issues.

The event was organized by the refinery’s environmental group, the Habitat Enhancement, Awareness and Recycling Team, or HEART for short. The group is made up largely of birders, gardeners, builders and employees who are concerned about land maintenance and restoration.  “HEART is essentially people who are enthusiastic about nature,” said Dr. Labonté.

They had been searching for guest speakers and had spoken with Dr. Patrick Louchouarn, TAMUG’s Executive Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer, who offered a few ideas and names, including Dr. Labonté’s. According to her, “this is the first time the group has had a professor come speak.” 

“I was invited to talk about the impact of Hurricane Harvey on Galveston Bay,” she said. Labonté, a microbiologist by trade, knew her audience.  “I knew with a petroleum company that there would be more chemists,” she said, “so I talked a lot about how the chemistry changed and how that impacted the microbial communities.”

“I talked about how microbes are important for the environment in the biological pump, how they sink organic matter to the bottom of the sea floor, and how they’re impacted by environmental change,” she said. “I talked about Deep Water Horizon and how microbes were involved in oil degradation, and they were very interested in that.”

She was also able to speak about collaborative projects she is working on with other TAMUG faculty, including Drs. Antonietta Quigg, Karl Kaiser, David Hala and Hui Liu, that has been done in the aftermath of the storm. “I also spoke about the work being done by professors such as Dr. Lene Petersen and Dr. Anna Armitage, and they were very interested,” she said. Both Armitage’s and Liu’s projects were recently awarded funding from the National Science Foundation.

There were about 50 people in attendance at the event, and Dr. Labonté was pleased to get several questions following her presentation.

“They were interested in learning,” she said. “When you tell them that half of the oxygen they breathe is from photosynthetic bacteria and algae in the ocean, you always get a big reaction.”

The reception to Dr. Labonté’s talk was enthusiastic, which she finds encouraging. HEART puts on the talk twice a year, and she hopes it can grow into a regular, even bigger, event.

 “I think I’ve just opened the door, and they’ve seen that we are doing really cool research right in their backyard.”

Media Contact

Patrick Temperilli
Academic Affairs