North­eastern pro­fessor H. William Det­rich, an expert in marine mol­e­c­ular biology and bio­chem­istry, has been making research trips to Palmer Sta­tion in Antarc­tica for more than 30 years. There, he’s led ground­breaking research on Antarctic fish and in recent years has brought North­eastern co-​​op stu­dents for marine bio­log­ical research experiences.

Now, in recog­ni­tion of his notable dis­cov­eries and work, a small island less than a mile away from that research facility has been com­mem­o­ra­tively named in his honor. The name Det­rich Island was rec­om­mended for approval by the Advi­sory Com­mittee on Antarctic Names, and it was approved by the U.S. Board on Geo­graphic Names on Jan. 19.

Det­rich was rec­og­nized for his notable dis­cov­eries in the Antarctic waters regarding the evo­lu­tionary devel­op­mental biology of ice­fish, which lack red blood cells and the oxygen trans­port pro­tein hemo­globin, in stark con­trast to their red-​​blooded Antarctic rel­a­tives. He was also com­mended for ini­ti­ating studies on how ice­fish are reacting to warming of the Antarctic Ocean and for his involve­ment in facil­i­tating stu­dent intern­ships and co-​​ops at Palmer Station.

I’m very proud to have been rec­og­nized for con­tributing to Antarctic marine biology,” said Det­rich, whose lab is based at Northeastern’s Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant, Mass­a­chu­setts. “But equally impor­tant, I’m thrilled to have been able to intro­duce grad­uate and under­grad­uate stu­dents to the fan­tastic expe­ri­ence of doing research at Palmer Sta­tion and on the Southern Ocean.”

Northeastern professor H. William Detrich, in his lab at the Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

North­eastern pro­fessor H. William Det­rich, in his lab at the Marine Sci­ence Center in Nahant, Mass­a­chu­setts. Photo by Matthew Modoono/​Northeastern University

Detrich’s research has iden­ti­fied genetic changes that allow ice­fish to thrive in icy waters despite not pro­ducing hemo­globin and red blood cells, which are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered as essen­tial to ver­te­brate life. By deter­mining the genes that ice­fish do not express, he explained, his lab has dis­cov­ered genes pre­vi­ously not known to con­tribute to the process of red blood cell for­ma­tion. Det­rich and his lab mem­bers study these novel genes in zebrafish, which have a short gen­er­a­tion time and are amenable to genetic manip­u­la­tion. He was part of an inter­na­tional research team that in 2014 sequenced the first genome of an Antarctic notothe­nioid fish. Ice­fish are a sub­group of the notothenioids.

Det­rich said the island, which is about 32 meters high and three-​​quarters of a mile north of Palmer Sta­tion, started to appear in 2012 from under the Marr Ice Pied­mont, one of many Antarctic glac­iers that are in retreat. The island is still mostly cov­ered by ice.

Det­rich will make his next research trip to Palmer Sta­tion in March and will be joined in May by three North­eastern stu­dents for their six-​​month co-​​ops, which will align with Antarctica’s winter.

He’s seen the island before, but never actu­ally stepped foot on it—something he’s now hoping to do.

I def­i­nitely want to go to the island when I return to Palmer Sta­tion,” he said.