Kelly Watson

Masters Students



B2/L2 - Sea Side - 2246-WS09


I grew up on the East coast of the US, in Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania. Even while living in land locked places, I always found my way to the water. My love for science and fascination of the ocean world, led me down a path of studying marine science. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in General Biology and a minor in Marine Science from The Pennsylvania State University. My involvement in the marine world has taken me abroad to provide conservation efforts for sea turtles in Costa Rica, for coral research in Curaçao on the Caribbean reefs, for biological oceanography on a voyage through the Atlantic and Caribbean aboard a Sea Education Association (SEA) sailboat, again on another trip with SEA studying oceanography and coral reefs on a Pacific expedition from Tahiti to Hawaii, and finally to Saudi Arabia where I spent three weeks of my summer studying marine science during the KAUST Red Sea Summer Program. I decided KAUST was a perfect fit for a masters in marine science due to my research interests lining up with current research here and its unique location on the Red Sea.

Research Interests

One of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth relies on the symbiosis between a coral host and an algal symbiont. This relationship allows for corals to dominate in tropical nutrient poor waters by the recycling of nutrients between the host and the symbiont. Stressors induced by climate change and anthropogenic sources are causing the breakdown of this relationship and the decline of coral reefs all around the world.

My interests lie in the molecular drivers behind the coral-algal symbiosis and how changing environmental conditions will alter this interaction. During my undergrad at The Pennsylvania State University, I worked in the Medina Lab on a project using whole mount in situ hybridization to study gene expression and development of Cassiopea xamachana (the upside-down jellyfish) and its symbiont, Symbiodinium. My research at KAUST will follow a similar path using in situ hybridization to study nitrogen recycling genes involved in this symbiosis using the model organisms Cassiopea and Aiptasia (sea anemones).


  • ​M.Sc. Marine Science - KAUST, Saudi Arabia (2019 - Present)
  • B.Sc. General Biology with a minor in Marine Science - The Pennsylvania State University, USA (2014 - 2018)

KAUST Affiliations

​● Red Sea Research Center (RSRC)

● Biological and Environmental Science and Engineering Division (BESE)

Research Interests Keywords

Genomics Symbiosis Molecular Biology Ecological and Environmental Genomics Coral Reefs Climate Change