Bringing Unknown Species into the Light
Lee Won-choel (Department of Life Science)
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Professor Lee Won-choel of the Department of Life Science is a researcher who studies biological diversity, animal taxonomy, sociobiology, and marine biology. A passionate animal taxonomist who specializes in meiofauna, microscopic organisms living in the sea floor, Lee found and classified over 100 new species. His recent paper, “A new species of the genus Nannopus (Copepoda, Harpacticoida, Nannopodidae) from the mudflat of Ganghwa Island, Korea” introduces his discovery of Nannopus ganghwaensis.
The species Nannopus ganghwaensis, which belongs to the order of harpacticoid copepods of meiofauna group is a discovery Lee made during his scientific project regarding researching life in Ganghwa mudflat. In order to clarify that it is entirely new, Lee took several steps. First of all, he observed that the specimen displays general features of a harpacticoid through microscope.
Then Lee proceeded into a more complicated procedure, using electronic microscope and carefully examining and dissecting each segment, including each legs and hairs. The next step was identifying the specimen through literary data analysis. Comparing and contrasting each feature of harpaticoid copepods species through this procedure, Lee could find other species of harpacticoids that looked most similar to the newly found ones.
“Nannopus ganghwaensis had general features to those species. But when observed much closer into its finest detail, it has its own distinctive features such as having a smooth seta, or thick hair, without additional fine hairs at the end of the forth inner leg. In addition, the innermost seta at the fifth exopod was fused into the segment,” Lee said.
After dissection, Lee drew the specimen onto a sheet of paper. The most important of the whole process, the carefully measured drawings were later used in his thesis. After pictures were taken through electronic microscope, additional DNA analysis that distinguishes the species was done.
Since Lee specializes in marine biology, he not only explores Korean seas but ventures out to oceans worldwide, scuba diving in the North and South Pole, the Maldives, New Caledonia, and more to collect samples of microscopic marine life. Currently, Lee is a project leader in the BK21 Plus Eco-Bio Fusion Research Team, which focuses on training graduate students. In addition, Lee is working for the National Institute of Biological Resources, publishing illustrated guides to newly-discovered and researched organisms.
“The socioeconomic significance of biological diversity research is that one’s country can be fully aware of its biological resources. This means that the country in question can demand other nations of the same profit when the latter is making use of the former’s resources, according to Convention on Biological Diversity,” Lee explained.
In addition, Lee’s field of research gives basic information about organisms due to his work of classifying and finding new species. When secondary research is necessary because of medical reasons, data about various species is more than necessary.
Lee’s personal goal is to open international conferences in Korea for students to attend with ease. This was achieved when he organized the 15th International Meiofauna Conference in 2013 and the 12th International Conference on Copepods in 2014 at Hanyang University.
“I think I will continue to research as I have always done. There are 4000 harpacticoid copepods and about 2.5 million of them are yet to be found." Lee’s passion is run by his pure interest and enjoyment in finding, classifying, and giving names to new species that are brought into light through his endeavors.
As a researcher, Lee believes that studying what one truly enjoys lasts long. “In society, people’s choices of their careers are too limited because of social or economic pressures. But people, especially those planning to become researchers, should find their interests in the direction that the masses haven't yet taken in order to strengthen their academic foundation,” Lee advised.
Jang Soo-hyun firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by Moon Ha-na
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