2nd June : Marine Institute Biodiscovery Sampling

My name is Fiona Grant and I work in the Ocean Science Services section of the Irish Marine Institute. We are partners in the European Seafloor Observatories Network  project (ESONET) which aims to develop a number of deep sea observatories at twelve sites on the European margin. Experience gained in technological developments and deployments at the PAP site will provide invaluable knowledge to other European researchers wishing to set up similar seafloor observatories.

One of my roles on board was to take a number of phytoplankton samples as part of the Marine Institute and National University of Ireland, Galway’s Biodiscovery Project. The aim of this research is to investigate the possibility that phytoplankton species in seawater can produce biologically active compounds (bioactives) of significance for use as human medicines.

The marine environment is an extremely rich source of both biological and chemical diversity. Among the 34 Phyla of life, 17 occur on land whereas 32 occur in the sea and 13 phyla are exclusively marine. Fundamentally this means that the ocean is far more diverse than land and is an exceptional reservoir of bioactive natural products, many of which exhibit unique chemical/structural features not found in terrestrial natural products. In this regard, there is no substitute for Mother Nature, as a source of leads for the development of novel drugs.

Yesterday, with the help of staff from BAS (British Antarctic Survey), I collected water samples using the CTD and a phytoplankton sampling net. Data from the CTD fluorometer showed that the highest concentrations of phytoplankton were at ~35m below the surface. After this, we deployed the phytoplankton net and towed it vertically through the water column from a depth of 50m.

Scientists sampling seawater from different depths (with courtesy of R.Lampitt, PAP cruise 2009)

It was then time to filter the samples using a 200mm and 20mm mesh to isolate the phytoplankton. Ideally, the samples had to be taken on the last day of the cruise as we want to keep the samples alive before bringing them back to the lab to culture them. The samples were diluted before giving them the equivalent of a “multivitamin” – a drop of nutrient enriched seawater is added to the samples to help their survival before we reach land.

Time will tell whether the samples we have taken on this cruise have bioactive properties, but we are hopeful! More phytoplankton sampling work will be done in September this year on board the Irish Research Vessel, the Celtic Explorer. The plan is to return to the PAP site to recover the Met buoy and Bobo lander and to maintain some of the mooring sensors. Fingers crossed we are as lucky with the weather as we have been this time round!

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