When Dr. Kiana Frank was a young girl growing up in Kailua, Ko‘olaupoko, O‘ahu, her great-grandmother shared a mo‘olelo (oral history) with her about sweet-tasting mud in nearby Kawainui Marsh. Her quest to find this legendary lepo ‘ai ‘ia was her first step toward a career as one of Hawai‘i’s experts in aquatic microbes and the role they play in sustaining healthy ecosystems.
Currently an assistant professor at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at UH Mānoa and a postdoctoral fellow in The Kohala Center’s Mellon-Hawai‘i Doctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, Frank recounted how she would go to the marsh as a child and taste different muds in hopes of finding the magical sweet mud. “I tasted red mud, green mud, black mud,” she recalls, “and while I never found the sweet mud, I did notice differences between them. Why does the black mud smell bad? Why does red taste like rust, and why does green sort of taste like limu (seaweed)?”