Catherine Unabia PH.D.

College of Natural and Computational Sciences - Department of Natural Science

Associate Professor of Biology
Program Chair, Biology



  • Postdoctoral Fellow (1996-1999), University of Hawaii Pacific Biomedical
  • Research Center Kewalo Marine Laboratory, Honolulu.
  • Ph.D.  Zoology, Marine Invertebrate (1996). University of Hawaii, Manoa.
  • M.S. Botanical Sciences (1984) University of Hawaii, Manoa.

Courses Taught:

  • BIOL 2050 General Biology I
  • BIOL 2052 General Biology II
  • BIOL 2170 Ethnobotany: Plants and People
  • BIOL 3020 Plant Biology
  • BIOL 3021 Plant Biology Laboratory
  • BIOL 3060 Marine Invertebrate Zoology
  • BIOL 4030 Cell and Molecular Biology
  • BIOL 4031 Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory
  • BIOL 4040 Environmental Microbiology
  • BIOL 4041 Environmental Microbiology Laboratory
  • BIOL 4950 Biology Practicum
  • BIOL 6170 Larval Biology
  • NSCI 2100 Biotechnology: Problems and Solutions
  • NSCI 6900 Master's Research
  • NSCI 7000 Master's Thesis

Teaching Interests/Research:

Larval Biology, Chemical Ecology, Seagrass Communities, Marine Microbiology and Biotechnology, Molluscan Evolution and Systematics. 

Discovery of a seagrass species new to Hawaii led to the evaluation of this species as an invasive alien which might threaten the survival of our native Hawaiian seagrass ecosystem, including an endemic snail that feeds on the native seagrass. This presents research questions including whether the snail can feed, grow and reproduce on the new species, and if planktotropic veliger larvae settle on both species of seagrass.

I am also interested in how organisms interact with one another at the cell and molecular level, particularly cell-cell signaling and adhesion involving glycoprotein surface molecules and receptors.  My research has focused on the role of bacterial biofilms as signals for the settlement and metamorphosis of algae and larvae of marine invertebrates.  A practical application has been the development of antifouling strategies which prevent fouling by acting upon bacterial biofilms.  Glycoprotein signaling may also be important in the development of consortia of co-aggregating microbial species, such as members of the nitrogen or sulfur cycles and other components of a diverse microbial community essential for healthy aquatic ecosystems.  These concepts may prove useful in the development of sustainable, non-polluting aquaculture, bioremediation of coastal areas and wetlands using plants and associated microbes, or conservation of coral reefs and other endangered marine ecosystems.  To further investigate microbial interactions by experimental manipulation, marine microbes are being isolated, characterized and cultured.  Among microbes, cyanobacteria are especially interesting not only as primary producers, nitrogen fixers, and sources of bioactive natural products, but also because they build mats that structure shallow marine communities.  Little is known about their interactions with other organisms.  This diverse microbial collection is also available for natural products screening, and the culture of cyanobacteria as natural product sources and experimental models is underway. 

Catherine Unabia

Associate Professor

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  (808) 236-7921
  Hawaii Loa, AC 248