By Joanne Morris, Evening Post, September 23, 1955
College of Charleston students are taking part this year in an experimental course which will be developed greatly in months and years to come.
A marine biology course is being offered for the first time at the college. It includes lectures, field trips and work at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Ft. Johnson.
Dr. Joseph R. Merkel is director of the marine lab program. Before coming to Charleston he was research associate and instructor of microbiology at the Institute of Microbiology, New Brunswick, N.J.
Dr. Merkel is assisted by William B. Cotter, assistant professor of biology.
The course this year is a survey of marine biology and oceanography. Two lectures a week will be held at the fort.
“Usually, this type of course is not given to undergraduate students,’ Dr. Merkel said.
A 22-foot boat is available at Ft. Johnson for students to use in gathering specimens and samples of water. The craft will also be used in studying the area and the nature of currents and tides in the harbor.
The Marine Biological Laboratory is in the building once used in the U.S. Public Health Service as a quarantine hospital.
Microbiology, the study of microorganisms will be emphasized in the program. Some of the major research problems will deal with the marine food cycles.
In marine food cycles, the smallest beings are fed upon by larger ones, which in turn serve as food for still larger beings. This process continues through the highest forms of sea life.
“We will try to find where microbial forms fit in,” Dr. Merkel said. “There are still large gaps in the knowledge of this phase of marine life.”
“Another question we will study,” he said, “is what microorganisms use for food.”
“We will study products produced by marine microorganisms,” Dr. Merkel said, “and see how microbial activity fits into the overall picture of marine life.”
Substances such as cellulose or paper are subject to attack by microorganisms if they are thrown into the ocean. Research will be made on the decomposition or conversion resulting from the attack.
“We’ll see what products are formed when they are attacked,” Dr. Merkel said.
Other problems to be taken up in the marine biological program are corrosion in sea water and the collection of barnacles and small sea life on the bottom of ships.
Lab facilities at Ft. Johnson are limited now, but plans have been made for extensive increases.
Included in the plans are two labs for visiting research investigators. Another building has been equipped to house a family.
Another development plan involves cooperation with other colleges in this area, as Clemson, Furman, and Wofford. Through a cooperative program, summer courses in marine biology would be given at Ft. Johnson.
Something else he particularly hopes to build up at the laboratory is a good library for marine biology.