MHS grad now swims with the sharks

Anthropologist Jane Goodall studied her gorillas in the mist, and actor Kevin Coster had his dances with wolves.

And if former Monticello man Michael Doane had a movie based on his life thus far, it might just be Swimming with the Sharks.

That’s what the 2005 Monticello High School graduate does these days as he pursues his PhD at the Coastal and Marine Institute at San Diego State University. His work involves collecting skin samples from sharks in order to study how microbes affect the health of the animals.

It’s a long ways from his days of swimming for the Monticello Marlins swim team, but he said that is the one part of his central Illinois upbringing that made him aware of his love and affinity for the water.

“I am very comfortable in the water,” said Doane, 30 years old. His research is groundbreaking enough that he presents data regularly at conferences and feels “theoretically, I could make a career out of it.

“We’re basically trying to establish what the importance of those microbes are. It is understood they are important to all life-giving processes, but in the majority of situations we don’t know what they really do,” said Doane, adding that such knowledge could better diagnose sick sharks. It’s something he terms “metagenomics” – which includes compiling a DNA list of microbes as they are found.

It’s somewhat like an agricultural trend that has researchers trying to figure out the interaction of soil microbes with crops. Except corn and soybeans can’t bite you.

Catch and release methods can be used to collect samples from smaller species, but that is not possible for some like the whale shark, which can measure 55 feet long.

That’s when Doane jumps in the ocean. In a paper published online he states, “collecting the microbes from the shark’s skin is one of the exciting parts of my research.”

Some would not use the term “exciting.” But Doane does.

“Exciting being you never know how that shark is going to react. They have their own personality we often overlook. It may be a docile animal, or it could start thrashing about,” he said.

But most of them tend toward gentle dispositions, said the former Monticello man.

“I’ve been fortunate, but I’ve been in the water with them a lot, so that has developed some respect,” he added.

So how does a kid from the corn fields of central Illinois end up in marine biology? For Doane, U of I Natural Resources instructor Chris Taylor got him interested, and a subsequent internship to study coral reefs in Belize got him hooked – line and sinker.

His original goal was to study coral reefs, but the shark skin job came as part of his 2012 masters degree studies at San Diego, and it “became apparent this was bigger than just a master’s program.

“It’s been nice,” said Doane of the cutting edge studies, adding “the research has been well received.”

Shark Week
We felt the need to ask Doane his opinion of Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s annual offering that has developed quite a following.

“I love Shark Week,” he said. “At first it was a little over the top, but I think these days there is enough push from researchers who vet materials, so that has helped.”

Doane is the son of Vicki Feeney of Monticello and Scott Doane of Oreana.


 

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