Success stories | Assemble+

Success stories

The core of the ASSEMBLE Plus project is provision of on-site and remote access to research services offered by our access providers.
Learn from our success stories how we have been able to help researchers via our Transnational Access programme!

Red Sea Chaetoceros
Access provider: Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, Israel (IUI)

Wiebe Kooistra

Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn

(Italy)

I applied for an ASSEMBLE Plus TA grant for access to the InterUniversity Institute (IUI) in Eilat, in the northern tip of the Red Sea. My objectives were to sample the plankton there and establish cultures of Chaetoceros, a common diatom genus in the marine plankton.

I focus my research on its evolutionary history and biodiversity and I wanted to travel to the Gulf, a part of the Indian Ocean, which hosts species different from those in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. I went there in early February 2020 (just before COVID-19 hit) because mid-winter mixing of the water column allows the phytoplankton to prosper. The 30 strains I established, belong to 15 species, some new to science. IUI staff was very helpful, welcoming, and showed keen interest in my work. PhD student Yoav Avrahami helped with the sampling and I showed him how to establish and maintain diatom cultures. A great time!

Parasite diversity of non-indigenous crustaceans from European waters
Access provider: Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur Mer, France (OOB)

Volodimir Sarabeev
Zaporizhzhia National University

(Ukraine)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus because it was a good opportunity to execute a short-term pilot study of fish parasites using the facility of the Mediterranean marine station. 

My project focused on parasite diversity from an alien teleost fish species, Parablennius pilicornis (ringneck blenny) and its sympatric relatives Blennioidei in the French Mediterranean. Morphological and molecular data were extracted to delineate a checklist of parasite species from blennies.

My pilot survey released in January 2019 on the research platform of the OOB showed that this host harbours a diverse assemblage of parasites typical for teleost fishes of the Mediterranean. Co-introduced parasites were not found in samples. The development of the ASSEMBLE Plus project allowed me to draw the plan for future research and to apply for Marie Curie fellowship.

Morphological and molecular taxonomy of deep-sea east Mediterranean infaunal Polychaeta
Access provider: Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture, Greece (IMBBC

Valeria Farberova
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research

(Israel)

My PhD study is aimed at the ecology of Polychaeta communities in the soft substrate of the Mediterranean coast of Israel. In this context, accurate identification of polychaeta to species level is a basic and important measurement tool.

My ASSEMBLE plus application provided me the opportunity to gain knowledge of taxonomy and morphology of polychaetes including molecular taxonomy. Thanks to my morphological taxonomy tutor Dr Giorgos Chatzigeorgiou and the molecular assistance provided by Dr Panagiotis Kasapidis and his laboratory team and equipment, I managed to identify species from a variety of families, collected and became familiar with the relevant taxonomy literature and made progress in the determination of 18S molecular markers of the identified species. It is also my hope to maintain the collaboration with my hosts and it is my pleasure to express my gratitude to them.

Bilaterian cell type evolution
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR)

Tim Wollesen
University of Vienna

(Austria)

Being located in landlocked Vienna, ASSEMBLE Plus offers me an uncomplicated and efficient way to carry out research projects at a range of excellent and well-equipped marine biological stations in different biogeographical regions. As a researcher I mostly work in the office and lab and ASSEMBLE Plus gives me the chance to observe animals in their natural habitat.

My research is concerned with the evolution of bilaterian cell types with focus on mollusks such as snails and squids and the filter-feeding entoprocts, two closely related clades with very different adult body plans. During my stay at the Station Biologique de Roscoff (SBR), I collected entoprocts and established dissociation protocols on their adults and larvae. In subsequent single-cell RNA sequencing experiments cell types are characterized, an approach that contributes to infer the evolution of bilaterian cell types and body plans.

Before visiting SBR, local staff helped me to organize my stay. At the SBR, I was greatly supported by friendly staff, skilled fishermen, and experts on marine aquaculture!

Evolution of Ascidians under Ocean Warming and Ocean Acidification
Access provider: Toralla Marine Science Station, University of Vigo, Spain (ECIMAT)

Tiago Repolho
University of Lisbon

(Portugal)

The aim of our research project was to experimentally assess the adaptive potential of the sea squirt Ciona intestinalis (Linnaeus, 1767) to ocean warming and ocean acidification conditions, under a multigenerational perspective. 

To kick start our project, myself and my colleague Dr Rui Rosa (Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal) have applied to ASSEMBLE Plus program in order to collect adult individuals of this species, derived from different populations (western coast of the Iberian Peninsula). The support and logistics that were provided by the program itself and the service provider (ECIMAT-UVigo) were primordial for us to start our project and achieve the research objectives being set. 

Overall, our experience with ASSEMBLE Plus was highly beneficial for our project, besides allowing us to further develop additional research collaborations for the near future.

Characterization and molecular phylogeny of marine members of the genus Chlorella
Access provider: Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, UK (SAMS)

Thomas Pröschold
University of Innsbruck

(Austria)
and Tatyana Darienko
University of Göttingen
(Germany)

We applied to the ASSEMBLE Plus program twice to assess the diversity of several groups of marine green microalgae and to clarify their taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships. These algae are poorly studied despite their high biotechnological potential. The assessment of these microorganisms is a real challenge because of their morphological simplicity and their high genetic diversity. Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP) as an important source of marine diversity was the ideal to study microalgae. During our visit, we investigated a large number of deposited microalgal strains belonging to the genera Chlorella, Marinichlorella, Chlorocystis, Halochlorococcum, Desmochloris, and others. We also used the possibility to collect the samples and isolated some strains, which will be submitted to the CCAP in the near future.

The obtained results were published together with CCAP-team in open-access journals. The scientific equipment and the infrastructure of CCAP/SAMS are of the highest standard, which made efficient work possible. The hosts were wonderful and very supportive. We benefited very much from this great experience and we will continue working together with our friends.

FungAlBase: combining a culture dependent and independent approach to assess the endophytic diversity in different algal life history phases
Access provider: Marine Biological Association, UK (MBA)

Stacy Krueger-Hadfield
University of Alabama at Birmingham

(USA)
and Guido Bonthond
University of Oldenburg
(Germany)

I was a post-doc at the MBA from 2011 to 2013 and, in 2017, returned for a short stint as a Ray Lankester Investigator. I had invited Guido Bonthond, the co-PI on the ASSEMBLE FungAlBase project, to work with us on my Ray Lankester project. While we were at the MBA, we learned about the ASSEMBLE Plus program. I had received ASSEMBLE support in 2012 for sampling ascidians in Chile and knew it was a fantastic program.  

Guido had been a researcher at the Westerdijk Institute and had a keen interest in fungi. We had been collaborating on microbial communities associated with an invasive seaweed, so expanding this work to include the rather poorly studied algal-associated fungi was not only a fun project but a natural extension of our work. It also afforded us the opportunity to work with Michael Cunliffe and his group at the MBA. 

In the very hot summer of 2018, we arrived in Plymouth. We sampled five macroalgal species, including different life cycle stages. The long days in the lab isolating fungi from different algae were not only great fun, but we also got to work with a fantastic student in the Cunliffe group - Ana Barilo. Ana spent many weeks caring for the fungi after Guido and I returned to Germany and the US, respectively.  

We are now in the process of writing the manuscript on our culture dependent and independent approaches - stay tuned for some neat patterns across tidal zonation and seaweeds! Both Guido and I had a fantastic time returning to the MBA and now exploring the wondrous world of fungi that live with algae.

Traits, invasion and Mediterranean fish communities
Access provider: Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Greece (HCMR)

Shahar Malamud
Tel Aviv University

(Israel)

The ASSEMBLE Plus grant allowed us, members of the Marine Ecology & Biodiversity lab, at the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences Tel Aviv University (Israel), an exciting opportunity to expand our research on the conservation of Mediterranean fish communities. The location of Crete, between the two Mediterranean basins, provides a rare glimpse into the spread and establishment of invasive fish species.

The representatives of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR)  at Gournes, Heraklion Crete, and especially Dr. Panagiotis Kasapidis, made every effort to help and assist in the complex coordination and execution of the research, and their intimate knowledge with the region allowed to select suitable (and sometimes remote) dive sites according to our unique study needs. The two weeks of diving all over Crete were intense but provided us an important information about the current fish communities and biodiversity around Crete, and an understanding of the impact of biological invasions in this system. After putting the results into the larger context of other Mediterranean systems, the study enabled us to understand the processes shaping the dynamics of the unique Mediterranean fish community. 

Can cancer cells “ship” among cockle species in nature: Ship Cells
Access provider: Institute of Oceanography, University of Gdansk, Poland (UG-IO)

Seila María Díaz Costas
University of Santiago de Compostela

(Spain)

I applied to the ASSEMBLE PLUS program because I was interested in the clonal origin of cancers in cockles of the Baltic Sea. I am particularly interested in demonstrating whether Cerastoderma glaucum cockle cancer is a transmissible cancer and whether its origin could be linked to neoplastic clones of the Cerastoderma edule species. 

Institute of Oceanography UG-IO has facilitated to obtain samples through an oceanographic campaign in a very modern and safe vessel and their processing in well-equipped laboratories. As a user at the center UG-IO, I have been very well received surrounded by an atmosphere of collaboration and help at all times. Assemble plus has helped increase the impact of my current research and helped start a collaboration with University of Gdansk researchers working on marine cancers.

Coccolithophore diversity and seasonality at LTER station Mare Chiara (Naples)
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)

Sabine Keuter
Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences 

(Israel)

In the Mediterranean, dynamics of phytoplankton are highly complex, especially in environmental gradients as found at the LTER-Marechiara (Long-Term Ecological Research) station off Naples, which is influenced by both coastal and off-shore waters. In an ongoing collaboration with Dr Adriana Zingone from the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, we are studying the seasonal dynamics of coccolithophores (calcifying microalgae) at this station. Thanks to the weekly, high-taxonomic resolution data of the LTER-MC time-series, we are able to analyze our coccolithophore data within an extensive oceanographic and biological context.

Through ASSEMBLE Plus I was given the opportunity to examine further preserved samples of the time series including the use of the high-resolution scanning electron microscope at the SZN. Apart from the abundance data, I was especially happy with the high-quality images I could make of so far undescribed coccolithophore species.

Very important for me was also the possibility to meet and discuss results with members of the LTER-MC team. We had very fruitful conversations and are currently working on publications. The Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn is a great place, I felt very welcome and had excellent supervision using the electron microscope.

Establishing Clytia hemisphaerica as a model for oocyte development and polarization
Access provider: Institut de la Mer de Villefranche, France (IMEV)

Peter Lenart
Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology

(Germany)

Our laboratory is studying the specialized divisions of oocytes. So far, we used starfish oocytes as a model system that are well suited for live cell microscopy and have several other advantages – but also limitations. Therefore, we became very interested in another model system, Clytia hemisphaerica, which was recently established by Evelyn Houliston’s laboratory in Villefranche-sur-mer. This model system is equally well suited for imaging, and has several the additional advantages such as the short and fully controlled life cycle, its suitability for gene editing, and it also allows us to study early stages of oogenesis.

With the support of ASSEMBLE Plus, we were able to visit Evelyn’s laboratory and received a first-hand introduction to culturing Clytia and preparing ovaries for imaging. We were also able to record the first preliminary data and assess feasibility of future experiments on establishment of oocyte polarity. 

Our visit was besides being very pleasant and enjoyable, it was most importantly very productive and was essential to establish this new model system in my laboratory.

A high resolution cellular atlas of the sea urchin embryo
Access provider: Kristineberg Marine Research Station, Sweden (KMRIC) and Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)

Pedro Martinez
Universitat de Barcelona

(Spain)

My name is Pedro Martinez and I work at the Department of Genetics of the University of Barcelona; where my focus of research is the understanding of mechanisms involved in the evolution of animals. In particular I investigate how genes and genomes contribute to building the diversity that we see in the natural world. The animals we use as research models are marine, mostly acoel flatworms but also echinoderms. This focus of research means, in practical terms, that in order to gather individuals and their developmental stages we have to travel to localities where they live, which involves using the experimental setups in nearby Marine Stations.

ASSEMBLE Plus has provided me with the possibility of arranging stays in places where I could collect (Kristineberg in Sweden) or do specific kinds of experiments (Stazione Zoologica in Naples, Italy) with my favorite animals. Without this help, my research would be today much poorer. 

Understanding coral colony morphology via stochastic modelling
Access provider: Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur Mer, France (OOB)

Ozan Kahramanogullari
Università degli Studi di Trento

(Italy)

Before applying for ASSEMBLE Plus, I had been collaborating with Lorenzo Bramanti at OOB on models of coral morphologies and we needed specific data for our models. Thanks to the excellent opportunity provided by ASSEMBLE Plus, we could measure the morphological features of red corals by photogrammetry and light microscopy, on-site in the Banyuls bay and at the aquariums at the lab. The proximity of the diving facilities and the laboratories allowed us to immediately start working on our measurements right after collecting the data, a unique set-up for this kind of work!

From a personal point of view, observing the corals in their natural environment was very inspirational. Moreover, we could study the cold-water corals in the aquariums, which would have been otherwise impossible. All of this made it possible to obtain the appropriate data and observations to formally describe various aspects of the colony development in these corals by models. The hospitality and the support of the local team in Banyuls made it also a great experience, scientifically and personally.  

Investigating diversity and biochemical composition of calcareous marine microalgae: novel insights for coccolithophore biology and ecology
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR) and Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research, Portugal (CIIMAR)

Naomi Villiot
Heriot-Watt University

(UK)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus while completing my PhD to investigate coccolithophore physiology through access to a broad sampling survey of diverse strains maintained in culture. 

Coccolithophores are marine calcareous microalgae that play important roles in the global carbon cycle. Despite representing a taxonomically diverse and ecologically successful group, our understanding of coccolithophore metabolism is biased towards a few species and their diversity is poorly explored. 

ASSEMBLE Plus gave me access to (1) the world’s biggest coccolithophore culture collection at the Station Biologique de Roscoff (SBR) and (2) state-of-the-art analytic facilities at the Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR).  I had the opportunity to collect lots of samples towards my PhD studies that I would not have been able to obtain otherwise as my funding is limited and does not cover research expenses. Overall, this was a really valuable experience, with excellent opportunities for networking and outstanding technical support.

Single-cell orchestration of nitrogen fixation and photosynthesis in Trichodesmium
Access provider: Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, Israel (IUI)

Meri Eichner
Czech Academy of Sciences

(Czech Republic)

Through ASSEMBLE Plus, we were able to sample field populations of the N2-fixing cyanobacterium Trichodesmium in the Gulf of Eilat at IUI (Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences). 

We are studying the ecophysiology of Trichodesmium in the laboratory at Algatech Centre, Czech Republic, and the focus of our recent project is finding out how N2 fixation in this genus is regulated on the level of single cells. While in our cultures Trichodesmium grows in single filaments, in the field they form colonies, which changes the chemical microenvironment around the cells. To account for this difference, it is important for us to compare our laboratory results to the field. 

With the help of the IUI staff operating the boats, we were able to sample Trichodesmium several times a day and quickly bring them back to the laboratory for stable isotope incubations and further analyses. Thanks to the supportive staff and local scientists we had a productive stay and we look forward to continuing our collaboration.

Development of neuroglia in amphioxus
Access provider: Institut de la Mer de Villefranche, France (IMEV)

Matteo Bozzo
University of Genoa

(Italy)

I applied to the ASSEMBLE Plus Transnational Access programme to obtain access to the amphioxus (Branchiostoma lanceolatum) culture system established at the IMEV. My PhD project focuses on the characterisation of glial cells in the developing amphioxus, an invaluable model organism to understand the early evolutionary events characteristic of the vertebrate lineage. In collaboration with Dr Michael Schubert and members of his research team EvoInSide, I obtained a large number of amphioxus embryos which I treated with drugs capable of altering the main developmental signalling pathways.

During my visit, I was also able to microinject amphioxus egg with mRNA to overexpress olig transcription factors, which invertebrates are known to be involved in the differentiation of motor neurons and glial cells. All members of local research teams were incredibly supportive, helping me to succeed in my goals.

Metabarcoding analysis of diatoms to explore phenology and phylogenetic diversity
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)

Mariarita Caracciolo and Natalie Simon
Sorbonne Université

(France)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus together with my supervisor Nathalie Simon because it was a great opportunity of collaborating with some colleagues from SZN, in order to first apprehend some new laboratory techniques of strain fixation and second to access their metabarcoding data and compare diatoms in different regions.

The aim of my research is to study the seasonal successions of protists in the Western English channel; and to understand the main environmental drivers of those temporal patterns while investigating also biotic interactions and their resilience. Sometimes, is difficult to assign some of the most abundant species because they are overlooked using traditional techniques. This collaborations helped in the further characterization at the electron microscopy of some of the most important diatoms in our system (e.s Minidiscus genus). Moreover allowed me to learn how to build a reference tree that will be useful for increase the precision of diatoms assignation.

Overall, a very positive experience and the colleagues have been of great support to our research.

Visualisation and analysis of dynamics in a cross-infection experiment of Ostreococcus sp. and its viruses from the Baltic and Mediterranean Sea
Access provider: Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur Mer, France (OOB)

Luisa Listmann
University of Hamburg

(Germany)

I applied for the ASSEMBLE Plus program to establish an ongoing cooperation between the working group in Hamburg where I am situated and a working group in Banyuls, France. We wanted to expand our work on the same organisms (a pico-phytoplankton species) and its associated viruses as it had been shown that they both exist in the Baltic and the Mediterreanean Sea. The lab group in Banyuls had year long experience working with viruses in the lab and a very established method for enumeration of viruses. Therefore the ASSEMBLE Plus program lent itself as a perfect opportunity 1) to gain experience regarding the methodology of working with viruses and enumerating them and 2) to make use of the existing biological resources.

From the ASSEMBLE program we were able to transfer the methodologies to our lab and also start an application process with pilot data for a large joint French-German research grant. My experience as a user was very good; the resources and platforms available via ASSEMBLE are very good and whomever I was in contact with was always very helpful with any kind of problem.

Role of the actin cytoskeleton in the regulation of the fertilization and early stages of development in sea urchin eggs
Access provider: Toralla Marine Science Station, University of Vigo, Spain (ECIMAT)

Luigia Santella
Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn

(Italy)

Our research is focused on the cellular and molecular events regulating oocyte maturation and fertilization of starfish (Astropecten aranciacus) and sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus and Arbacia lixula) eggs. In the laboratory, gametes of these two echinoderm species can be used to monitor the striking structural and ionic changes occurring at the egg cortex during the initial steps of fertilization. Our results have provided evidence that the fertilizability conditions of the eggs are strictly dependent on the proper structural organization of the actin cytoskeleton of the egg cortex and on rapid changes in its dynamics induced by the fertilizing sperm. We have recently shown that the alteration of the physicochemical properties and structure of the cortex of unfertilized sea urchin eggs caused by osmotic treatments and pH changes of seawater compromise the fertilization response and impaired embryogenesis.

The successful ASSEMBLE Plus program application has given me the possibility of using three different sea urchin species to access the biological resources of marine model organisms of ECIMAT. The development of the research project allowed me to gain information on the fertilization response of sea urchin species that are not available in our institute and to fix samples for electron microscopy analysis. My stay was pleasant, fruitful, and useful thanks to the excellent support of Dr. Estefania Paredes, with whom I have established a collaboration. 

Comparing taxonomic and functional composition and diversity of macrobenthic invertebrates associated with H. stipulacea in its native and invaded range: Does an invader support native biodiversity?
Access provider: Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture, Greece (IMBBC

Kimani Kitson-Walters
NIOZ-CNSI

(Netherlands)

My experience with ASSEMBLE Plus has been rather serendipitous! I was made aware of the opportunity while brain storming research ideas on an invasive seagrass that is rapidly spreading across the Eastern Caribbean for the last 20 years. This seagrass species happens to be native in the Red Sea, and invasive in the Mediterranean Sea for over 150 years. ASSEMBLE Plus provided the perfect opportunity to conduct comparative studies across the three sites to give insight into potential impacts of this invasive on Caribbean seagrass ecology.

The support at both HCMR, Greece and IUI, Israel were superb and allowed us to conduct our research with ease and efficiency. During our visit to IUI in particular, we were able develop strong collaborative relationships with Israeli researchers which saw them visiting the CNSI-NIOZ research station in the Caribbean to conduct additional seagrass research. All of this was only possible with assistance from ASSEMBLE Plus.

Dynamic changes in chemical-derived oxidative stress in circulating cells
Access provider: University of the Basque Country, Spain (PIE-UPV/EHU)

Ketil Hylland
University of Oslo

(Norway)

As part of my sabbatical at the University of Oslo, I had planned for some short-term stays at PiE/EHU, the marine station in Plentzia, the Basque Country. My colleagues there made me aware of the possibility, and funding from ASSEMBLE Plus made it possible for me to extend my stay and get more done. I wished to stay at PiE for access to model organism (mussel), available instruments and the opportunities to discuss with my colleagues there.

During my stay, I investigated the usefulness of a range of different fluorescent probes for cell compartments and cellular states with mussel haemocytes under different conditions. The studies were cut short by travel limitations due to covid-19, but the results provided evidence for time- and dose-dependent cellular changes due to contaminant exposure, but with some cellular functions remarkably robust.

Genetic diversity of Irish kelp (Laminaria hyperborea) from a European view
Access provider: Centre for Marine Sciences, Portugal (CCMAR)

Kate Schoenrock-Rossiter
NUI Galway

(Ireland)

In 2019, I applied to the ASSEMBLE Plus transnational access program to do collaborative work in the Serrao lab at CCMAR. The lab at CCMAR works extensively in population genetics of marine algae and has in house facilities for everything from DNA extraction to sequencing in house.

Our aim for the visit was to create a calibration metric for microsatellite data generated for a cold-water kelp, Laminaria hyperborea, across research laboratories and sequencing platforms in the EU. This calibration will allow data to be compared across labs, including past and future studies, allowing broad analysis of patterns in genetic structure of this foundation species, and potentially others if the same methods were to be used in future calibrations. During my two weeks at CCMAR, we were able to achieve data collection for this work and expand the project to Station Biologique de Roscoff.

Our work was recently published in the European Journal of Phycology, in spring 2020 and three labs from CCMAR, SBR and NUI Galway/University of Alabama at Birmingham continue to hone this calibration and work together to generate EU wide data sets, a key output of this transnational access.

Skeletal growth mechanisms in elasmobranch fishes
Access provider: Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur Mer, France (OOB)

Júlia Chaumel and Mason Dean
Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

(Germany)

We, Júlia Chaumel and Mason Dean, applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to work with living rays (elasmobranchs) in the aquaria of Banyuls-Sur-Mer, in southern France. We are marine biologists, using material characterization and imaging techniques to study elasmobranch skeletons, which are made of cartilage, not bone. It is thought that the elasmobranch skeleton never stops growing and mineralization is controlled to occur only in certain zones of the skeleton; to test this, we developed a longitudinal experiment to visualize regions of active mineral deposition, by injecting calcium markers in living animals and examining new tissue with fluorescent microscopy. 

Such live animal work is impossible at our home institute; ASSEMBLE Plus helped us to collaborate with a seaside institution with aquarium facilities, essential to study living marine animals. This opportunity allowed us to grow personally and scientifically, sharing knowledge and learning from different fields, and establishing fruitful collaborations abroad, important points for diverse and interdisciplinary career development. 

Comparative study of Pseudo-nitzschia assemblage from Central Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Sea (or other local marine environment): morphological and molecular approach
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)

Sanda Skejić and Jasna Arapov
Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries

(Croatia)

ASSEMBLE Plus provided us with a great opportunity to improve our knowledge of the potentially toxic marine diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia. Our project's main objectives were to applied molecular analyses for species identification and to analyse the fine ultrastructural morphological characteristics using a Transmission Electron Microscope. 

Pseudo-nitzschia species are commonly present in the phytoplankton community in the Adriatic Sea, and their morphological and molecular characterisation is important due to their ability to produce neurotoxin domoic acid.

Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus we were able to access SZN facilities and managed to determine isolated strains successfully. With the guidance of our host’s expertise, we learned how to introduce new molecular technics in our laboratory.  We are grateful for their help and support, a friendly atmosphere, and for making our staying pleasant and useful.

North Adriatic phytoplankton assemblages
Access provider: Instituto di Scienze Marine, Italy (ISMAR)

Ivano Vascotto

National Institute of Biology

(Slovenia)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to fill the knowledge gap I had about the phytoplankton ecology of the other side of the Northern Adriatic Sea. In general, in the analysis of time series it is important to have contact to the data provider since eventual doubts and ambiguities can be easily spotted and resolved, this is particularly true with phytoplankton data, since the variability in identification levels is great among researchers. In our specific case, to visit ISMAR in Venice had even more advantages. The data we had access at ISMAR included bio volumes and not only counts, so, it has been possible to test out analytical methods with a different type of data.

During the visit, which lasted one month, I had the chance to observe all the limits of my analysis protocol, which I deeply modified once back from Venice. Personally this experience was excellent and I recommend ASSEMBLE Plus to everyone in the marine community.

Phytoplankton responses to a climate change scenario in the NW Iberian upwelling system
Access provider: Toralla Marine Science Station, University of Vigo, Spain (ECIMAT)

Isabel Teixeira
University of Aveiro

(Portugal)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to carry out a kind of experiments that would be very difficult to execute at my home institution. 

My research is focused on phytoplankton ecology, and I am especially interested on the response of phytoplankton communities to a future climate change scenario. 

With ASSEMBLE Plus, I could access to excellent infrastructures and successfully perform climate change simulation experiments with natural phytoplankton communities. Collaboration with a local research group allowed expanding the experimental design, resulting in the collection of more data than initially proposed, and enhancing the complexity of the project. 

Thus, my experience was very positive, having obtained very good results and established new professional collaborations. I truly acknowledge the research and technical staff from the Access Provider for their help and involvement during my research stay.  

Valuation of ecosystem services provided by seagrasses
Access provider: Centre for Marine Sciences, Portugal (CCMAR)

Irene Olivé
University of Glasgow

(UK)

I would like to thank the ASSEMBLE Plus for granting the VALGRASS project.  It has been a great opportunity for access to research facilities and infrastructure as well  as performing research as a PI. This last point is particularly relevant for young  researchers and postdocs. 

I really appreciate the flexibility of the program this year during the current COVID-19  situation. As a suggestion, I would recommend improving a bit the communication,  interaction and following up with the liaising officers at the host institution. 

Globally, participating in the ASSEMBLE Plus TA programme has been a great scientific opportunity and experience. This programme does a great task boosting science and  facilitating international research and networking. I totally recommend researchers to  apply and submit projects to ASSEMBLE Plus TA programme. I wish this programme will  continue in the following years.

Fatty acids analysis of shrimp (of co-occurring shrimp) the South-West to the Brazil
Access provider: Ghent University (UGENT)

Geslaine Rafaela Lemos Gonçalves
São Paulo State University

(Brazil)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to get access to Marine Biology Research Group in University of Ghent (UGENT) to laboratorial facilities and research support in the analyses of shrimp’s fatty acids (FA) in the equipment of gas chromatograph equipped with a flame ionization detector and connected to a Mass Selective Detector. 

The aim of my project was to study the fatty acids composition of the three commercial benthic shrimps, to document the FAs profile of these shrimps in Cananéia and Ubatuba, in São Paulo State, checking if the environmental factand explain how the FAs of these commercial species were influenced by the environment in both regions.

I would like to thank the researchers and staff at UGENT for their support and to make my stay a great experience.

Effects of ultraviolet radiation and high temperature on physiological parameters of Microcystis spp.
Access provider: Ghent University (UGENT)

Florencia de la Rosa
CONICET

(Argentina)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus because I wanted to be trained in fatty acid profiling under the supervision of Prof. Marleen De Troch at UGENT. My PhD research focusses on studying the effects of climate change, increased temperature and solar ultraviolet radiation, on Microcystis aeruginosa (cyanobacteria). 

Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus I could establish a good protocol for extraction, identification, and quantification of fatty acids composition. The information acquired is essential to my PhD research, due to its contribution with the identification of a differential sensitivity of polyunsaturated fatty acids to climate change factors. Additionally, their response will have an impact on the invertebrates grazing on them and the overall flow of energy in the ecosystem.

I would like to specially thank to all researchers and staff at UGhent for making my ASSEMBLE Plus experience so memorable. Also, I would love to make further exchanges in the future.

Assessing species boundaries: Copepod population structure in transitional climate areas in the Southwestern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea
Access provider: Institut de la Mer de Villefranche, France (IMEV)

Érica Caroline Becker
Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina

(Brazil)

In the frame of this ASSEMBLE Plus action, I revisited the Tara Oceans zooplankton collection aiming to enlarge the latitudinal gradient of copepod diversity in the South Atlantic and Southern Ocean, which provided a unique opportunity to access a large variety of ecosystems, from tropical to polar waters, combining high-throughput imaging system followed by semi-automatic classification.

Imaging analyses provide reliable and consistent estimates of abundance and size distribution in monitoring programs worldwide. When bridged with traditional taxonomy, changes in copepod size structure are important to monitor as they can indicate changes in the species ecological traits, in the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships and, regime shifts in the functioning of the pelagic ecosystem.

Since plankton imaging instrumentation has been developed at the host institution, I could be acquainted with the latest imaging tools in plankton research. Moreover, the time I spent in the institution fostered the possibility to develop scientific collaborations with leading specialists in imaging analyses and coauthored manuscripts.

Uncovering the chemoattractant receptor in P. lividus
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR)

Elmar Behrmann
University of Cologne

(Germany)

My lab typically focuses on structural biology, but the ASSEMBLE Plus grant allowed me and my PhD student Patrick Meckelburg to do some actual field work. While we had the opportunity to work on related species before, only the access to the infrastructure of the SBR allowed us to expand our work to Paracentrotus lividus.

At SBR we benefited from the local expertise in handling these animals and extracting samples from them. The insights we obtained at the local aquarium not only improved our technical skills, but also opened up opportunities for future projects.

Because we arrived just after the peak of the first SARS-CoV-2 pandemic hitting France, the institute was barely occupied and getting in touch with other researchers was difficult. Despite these difficulties, our hosts at SBR were incredible and did their best to make our stay a success!

Analysis of the chromosomal evolution in the dog whelk Nucella lapillus
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR)

Daniel Garcia-Souto
University of Santiago de Compostela
(Spain)

Nucella lapillus is one of the most exciting models of adaptive evolution and speciation, and one of the few in which these processes have been linked to chromosomal divergence.

We had already characterized genetically, morphologically and karyologically several Nucella lapillus populations from NW Spain detecting chromosomal polymorphism linked to adaptive evolution and speciation. To further investigate this process and to complement our local analysis, we were in need of biological samples from previously reviewed populations at the English Channel, for which I applied for an ASSEMBLE Plus grant.

Thanks to ASSEMBLE plus and to the Station Biologique de Roscoff we could remotely access these samples, extremely valuable for our research. It was a very pleasant experience with some very friendly and professional collaborators with whom I hope to work again in the future.

Regain of head appendages in Annelida
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR)

Conrad Helm
University of Goettingen
(Germany)

I applied for transnational access to ASSEMBLE Plus to search for segmented (annelid) worm species inhabiting the costs near the Station Biologique de Roscoff (SBR) in France. In my lab, we investigate the evolution of organ systems and developmental processes in invertebrate non-model organsims.

In order to investigate numerous taxa using a comparative approach, the ASSEMBLE Plus program offers the unique opportunity to get access to all habitats where our organisms of interest occur.

Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus, we were able to find and investigate e.g. Spinther sp. – an enigmatic and rarely studied annelid worm living on sponges that will help us to understand the evolutionary background causing the immense variety of body plans in segmented worms. In this context, my experience with the people and all provided services and facilities in the Station Biologique de Roscoff (SBR) has been great - and such a support is deciding for the success of research projects in general.

Marine fungi for the recovery of precious components from electronic waste
Access provider: University of the Basque Country, Spain (PIE-UPV/EHU)

Christian Galasso
Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn
(Italy)

The aim of our project was to isolate fungi from marine sediments, collected in polluted areas, for the study of recovery activity of precious metals from electronic waste. We, Clementina Sansone, Michael Tangherlini and Christian Galasso, applied to the Assemble Plus Transnational Access program to access to The Plentzia Marine Station. This research infrastructure is well equipped for sampling in intertidal mud flats along the Bilbao estuary. Isolated strains were tested to investigate their capability to sequester into fungal biomass or medium iron, copper, platinum, palladium, silver and gold from electronic waste. The experiments performed led to discover two fungi able to recover iron and gold into biomass and platinum into medium. The ASSEMBLE Plus permitted to create new important collaborations that will be essential to better investigate the biotechnological potential of marine resources. Our experience was exceptional and we hope to establish other connection with marine European research stations.

Microphytobenthos biofilm structure and function under environmental challenge
Access provider: Scottish Ocean Institute, UK (SOI)

Cédric Hubas
Musèum National d'Histoire Naturelle
(France)

Bruno Jesus and I applied to the ASSEMBLE Plus programme to conduct an ecotoxicology study on microphytobenthic biofilms. We came up with the idea of testing the sequencing effect of various pollutants on these microalgal biofilms characteristic of mudflats but did not have all the necessary equipment and expertise at our disposal to carry out our project.

The ASSEMBLE programme allowed us to exchange ideas with members of the Sediment Ecology Research Group of the SOI and to benefit from an ideal working environment for our experiments. We were very well received and the members of the laboratory were very present throughout our stay. Our results suggest that at realistic environmental levels, the sequence is unlikely to be as important for biological stress response as the mere presence of one or more stressors.

Microencapsulated diets for sustainable aquaculture
Access provider: University of the Basque Country, Spain (PIE-UPV/EHU)

Camilla Campanati
University of Cambridge
(UK)

In our research project (funded by EIT food), in collaboration with AZTI, we are testing microencapsulated feeds as cost-efficient hatchery diets for sustainable aquaculture production of shellfish.

Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus, I was able to access laboratory facilities to scale-up mussel culture to a commercial scale and assess the effect of different diets on mussel growth and conditioning. Besides providing wet laboratories and dissection rooms, which allowed me to carry out two concomitant experiments with juvenile and adult mussels, PiE research centre was particularly favourable for our research project as it provided histology labs for studying the effect of microencapsulated diets on mussel gametogenesis. Furthermore, PiE is located relatively close to a longline aquaculture system, two miles offshore from the coastline between Ondarroa-Lekeitio (Biscay, Spain), which supplied our collaborating project partner (AZTI) with mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis used for our experimentation. Finally, ASSEMBLE Plus gave me the opportunity to work in a very friendly environment and develop a close collaboration with colleagues at PiE, which highly contributed to the project, giving their great expertise in mussel research.

It has been a fantastic experience and I really enjoyed working closely with colleagues at PiE, which have been incredibly helpful to successfully achieve our research aims.

Geochemistry and microbiology of the nitrogen cycle in surface sediments of the Gulf of Aqaba (Eilat), Red Sea
Access provider: Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Isreal (HUJI)

Angeliki Marietou
Aarhus University
(Denmark)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus program in order to visit the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat (HUJI) and get access to their research infrastructure (lab facilities, research vessels, and sampling equipment) to study how depth (pressure) affects N-associated microbial activities at the Gulf of Aqaba. 

The Gulf of Aqaba is an interesting system to study among others for two reasons, firstly the water temperature does not change with depth and remains close to 20oC all year round, and secondly it has a very sharp drop in bottom depth within short distances from shore. Thus, I was able to access and collect samples from depths of 710m, 550m, 400m, and 250m below sea surface and study depth related changes without any interfering temperature effects.

During my stay, I collaborated with Dr Gilad Antler form HUJI (NEGEV Lab) combining our expertise and using different approaches to understand this unique system. We are currently working together to analyse and publish our discoveries. It was in overall a great experience and I look forward to collaborating again in the future.

Detection of toxigenic cyanobacteria and their toxins by multi- approach methods in a Cuban estuary
Access provider: Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research, Portugal (CIIMAR)

Angel Ramón Moreira González
Centro de Estudios Ambientales de Cienfuegos, CEAC
(Cuba)

In this project, I studied the species diversity, genetic and toxicity of cyanobacterial blooms in a Cuban estuary (Cienfuegos Bay) associated with a subtropical storm which caused one of the largest freshwater inflows ever known for Cuban aquatic ecosystems. The ASSEMBLE Plus grant provided the opportunity to investigate the cyanobacterial blooms using novel approaches such as combined molecular-based and chemical-biochemical methods.

The study was developed in Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental (CIIMAR) in Porto, and specially hosted by Dr Vitor Vasconcelos, Principal Investigator of the Research Team on Cyanobacteria and their related toxins. Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus I was able to access microscopy and chemical analysis facilities, the CIIMAR culture collection of cyanobacteria and molecular biology labs simultaneously. The experience enriched my study and helped me to apply new techniques out of my scope in my research Centre.

During my stay at CIIMAR I also received wonderful hospitality, high technical and logistical help by the administrative and scientific staff, in a nice friendly environment. The research performed in CIIMAR had led to excellent networking opportunities with researchers of this institution for future investigations. I would like to thank the ASSEMBLE Plus and CIIMAR for this great experience.

Evaluation of nutraceutical compounds from microalgae in the intestine permeability, architecture and immune system of marine-cultured fish
Access provider: Centre for Marine Sciences, Portugal (CCMAR)

Andre Barany Ruiz
University of Cadiz
(Spain)

ASSEMBLE Plus provides an excellent opportunity to apply new techniques out of our home lab scope. Using the ASSEMBLE Plus exchange was definitely a great chance for all the involved people!

One of my research topics is to obtain a deeper understanding of the gastrointestinal tract in fishes. Specifically, how this series of hollow organs interact with the environment, the ingested food, and its evolutionary implications in life history. The overall understanding of these tissues, and their interaction from the molecular up-to the final protein levels can help improve fish farm management throughout aquafeeds. 

Thus, CCMAR was an ideal choice for my project for its infrastructure and research possibilities and the team's people's experience. I was hosted by Dr Juan Fuentes group to evaluate molecular aspects of barrier function. The stage's objective was to evaluate the potential benefits/changes of two microalgae-derived aquafeeds in the intestine of the Gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata), a well-known farmed biological model.

Cyanobacteria diversity in marine and freshwater ecosystems of Dominican Republic: Toxicity and biotechnological potential
Access provider: Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research, Portugal (CIIMAR)

Alfaniris Vargas de Jiménez
Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo
(Dominican Republic)

I applied for Transnational Access, with my colleague Adrián Gutiérrez; we were interested in completing experimental work at the Interdisciplinary Center for Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR), Portugal. ASSEMBLE Plus gave us the opportunity to access platforms that we do not have in our institute at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Gutiérrez was looking for anticancer potential of organic extracts in marine coral species of Zoanthus spp; and my doctoral project focused on the Biodiversity of Cyanobacteria in the Dominican Republic, looking for toxicity and Biotechnological Applications. We identify a great diversity of species and the potential production of cyanotoxins. The cytotoxic and biotechnological potential in both projects was demonstrated by selective bioassays against different targets. Currently, publications are being prepared in collaboration with CIIMAR researchers (exceptional hosts). The opportunity enriched and strengthened our Research Institute and collaboration with CIIMAR colleagues, in order to maintain future scientific exchanges.

Evolution of meiofaunal cnidarians and annelids
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR)

Alexandra Kerbl
University of Hamburg
(Germany)

Our project focusses on meiofaunal animals, which often have reduced taxonomically important external features. Molecular studies therefore regularly recover cryptic species, which fragment previously assumed broad distribution areas. In order to investigate distribution patterns of the cnidarian Halammohydra and the annelid Trilobodrilus, we (PhD-student Lenke Tödter and me) applied for ASSEMBLE Plus access to the meiofauna-hot spot Roscoff. Thanks to this opportunity, we collected a lot of specimens for our morphological and molecular studies, which are currently worked on in Hamburg and improve our datasets. 

To get this far, we benefitted vastly from the incredible people at SBR, especially people in administration (who managed to arrange our visit between lockdowns), in the departments (who facilitated finding old records and now retired colleagues for crucial information on sampling locations) and on the ship (who were willing to take us out even in unpleasant conditions to find the “perfect sand”).

Diatoms' grazing experiments
Access provider: Ghent University (UGENT)

Alessandra Petrucciani
Università Politecnica delle Marche
(Italy)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to perform grazing experiments on diatoms having the opportunity to exploit specialized marine biology infrastructures. My research hypothesis was that distinct size and shape might affect diatom-predator interaction. I had, therefore, the chance both to sample living copepods in the Belgian North Sea with the vessel R/V Simon Stevin (VLIZ) and to feed them with different species of diatoms from the BCCM/DCG Diatoms Collection. Grazing pressure on cultures of monospecific and mixed diatoms was analysed using a novel approach by Imaging Flow Cytometer provided by Ghent University. 

I had the honour to collaborate with experts in diatom cultivation and biology from whom I learnt more about these organisms. The interesting results on diatom – predator interaction will give original insights on the topic. This experience enriched me with new research techniques, excellent people to collaborate with and new ideas for further experiments.

Vertical distribution of diatom parasites in coastal environments
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)

Esther Garcés and Albert Reñé
Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC
(Spain)

The motivation why we, Esther Garcés and Albert Reñé, applied to the Transnational Access program of ASSEMBLE Plus was the opportunity to access the long-term ecological research MareChiara (LTER-MC) sampling location in the Gulf of Naples (Italy). 

We studied the diversity and distribution of parasites of diatoms present along the water column combining microscopic observations, cultivation and metabarcoding techniques. Diatoms are one of the main phytoplankton group and show a heterogeneous vertical distribution in terms of abundance and diversity. The interactions among protists are still largely unknown, especially for parasitic organisms, which have been traditionally overlooked. Thus, the project allowed us to determine the presence, diversity and distribution of those parasites in several samplings conducted at the LTER-MC.

The hosts and all staff from Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn were really supportive and a nice collaboration was established thanks to the hosts’ expertise on the dynamics and taxonomy of diatoms present in the sampling point, and our expertise on the detection and observation of parasitic interactions.

Role of invasive species in the transfer of microplastics to the marine food web
Access provider: University of the Basque Country, Spain (PIE-UPV/EHU)


Anna Diem
MARE
(Portugal)

My research is about non-indigenous species and their possible role as a vector of introduction of microplastics into the marine food web in Madeira island, Portugal.

The ASSEMBLE Plus research stay gave me the opportunity to conduct a first trial experiment regarding the trophic transfer of microplastic of the native mussel Mytilus galloprovincialis compared to the invasive mussel Xenostrobus securis to the native predator crab Pachygrapsus marmoratus

The mussels were exposed to different microplastic concentrations, and then fed to the crabs. The preliminary results show that microplastic was incorporated by the mussels, and that the crabs fed on both species. 

A few last steps need to be taken to confirm properly the trophic transfer. My experience with the ASSEMBLE Plus access at the Plentzia Marine Station in the Basque Country, Spain, exceeded my expectations: The facilities were particularly good, and especially the scientific team was very supportive.

Investigations on EPS of Euhalothece and Tetraselmis
Access provider: Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, UK (SAMS)


Imke Lang
University of Applied Sciences Bremerhaven
(Germany)

We, Insa Mannott and Imke Lang, applied to ASSEMBLE Plus for two good reasons: First, we were interested in learning more on cryopreservation of marine microalgae and the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP) Team at SAMS offered us access to excellent know-how and infrastructure. The second reason was driven by the idea to deepen our collaborations to the colleagues at SAMS and get the opportunity for a scientific exchange at site.

Our research is related to microalgae biotechnology and we like to establish a cell bank for our production strains which allows for a high viability after thawing. This is important in order to ensure a high productivity and quality of microalgae strains and its products in the fermentation process. At CCAP/SAMS, we got the opportunity to test different cryopreservation protocols for various strains of red microalgae. We also got to know new cultivation techniques for strain maintenance and purification.

The results obtained helped us a lot to proceed with the establishment of standardized cryo protocols. 
Visiting CCAP/SAMS in Oban was just excellent. The hosts were wonderful and very supportive and we made friends and very much benefited from this great experience. 

Application of Effect Directed Analysis (EDA) to hospital effluents 
Access provider: Interdisciplinary Centre for Marine and Environmental Research, Portugal (CIIMAR)


Belen Gonzalez Gaya
PiE-UPV/EHU
(Spain)

Thanks to the ASSEMBLE Plus access, we,Dr Belén González-Gaya and the PhD student Naroa Lopez-
Herguedas, enjoyed a one month stage at the Centro Interdisciplinar de Investigação Marinha e Ambiental (CIIMAR). We belong to the Analytical Chemistry department from the Marine Station of Plentzia (University of Basque Country) and the aim of our research is directed to the presence and behavior of pollutants in aquatic ecosystems.

We were hosted by Dr Miguel Santos, Principal Investigator of the Research Team Endocrine Disruptors and Emergent Contaminants. The objective of the stage was to test the obesity
potential of the estrogenic compounds present in Basque hospital effluent waters with an in-vitro transactivation bioassay developed at CIIMAR. The combination between our expertise in chemistry and waste water xenobiotics identification perfectly matched the biological and effects-oriented approach from the hosting group. The experience enriched our study and helped us to apply new techniques out of our scope in our research centre. Using the ASSEMBLE Plus exchange was definitely a great chance for us!

Photobiology of mesophotic corals
Access provider: Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, Israel (IUI)


Daniel Wangpraseurt
University of Cambridge
(United Kingdom)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus because I wanted to study the coral reefs of the Red Sea and collaborate with a leading Israeli coral research group. Specifically, I was looking forward to access the field research station at the Interuniversity Institute (IUI) for Marine Sciences in Eilat, Israel. The field station allows for easy access to a range of corals from shallow water down to a depth of 50 m. I have specific interest in studying the photophysiology of corals and how corals respond to differences in ambient light regimes. At the IUI, we were able to access deep sea corals and study their light harvesting capacities in comparison to their shallow water counterparts. This allows us to understand the life and functioning of these mesophotic ecosystems and also sheds light on the evolutionary adaptions that allow corals to thrive under dim light conditions, which also has potential biotechnological implications.

The research performed in the ASSEMBLE Plus scheme has led to important collaborations and excellent networking opportunities. Overall, my experience was excellent and I am looking forward to further exchange with other European research stations.

Assessing carbon uptake and grazing activity on an invasive seagrass in the Caribbean Sea 
Access provider: Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, Netherlands (NIOZ)


Gil Rilov
Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR)

My lab studies the impact of climate change and bioinvasions on the biodiversity and functions of benthic ecosystems with in-situ and lab experiments, and using the Israeli shore on eastern Mediterranean as a testbed. In the past few years we have assessed the ecosystem functions of native-dominated and invasive-dominated shallow water phytobenthic reef communities using incubation chambers. 

With the ASSEMBLE Plus grant, myself and my PhD student Martina Mulas, aimed to apply the methods developed to compare the production and carbon uptake of a native vs. a Red Sea invasive seagrass in the Caribbean. We joined forces with two other Israeli grantees of ASSEMBLE Plus to study this and other ecological aspects of the seagrass on the island of St. Eustatius (Statia) for two weeks.  

We were based at CNSI-NIOZ and received wonderful hospitality and technical and logistical help by the local stuff. These couple of weeks were intense with diving, and we had to adjust or work a bit because it appears that the native species on the Island has disappeared completely. But the fieldwork was successful and the results interesting. 

Spondylus multiomics: bridging biomineralization and archaeology 
Access provider: Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Greece (HCMR-IMBBC)


Jorune Sakalauskaite
University of Torino
(Italy)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus program because I was searching for a way to collect live specimens of Spondylus gaederopus molluscs and to obtain their genomics data. My research focuses on studying mollusc shell proteins which are inside the mineral skeleton for dual purposes: to better understand the molecular aspects of biomineralization and also use them as molecular barcodes to identify the biological origin of prehistoric shell artifacts. Spondylus is particularly interesting because it was one of the most widely used Mediterranean shells in European prehistory, reshaped and worked into elaborate jewels. The data obtained via ASSEMBLE Plus will enable me to have a full identification of Spondylus proteome and use it in future projects.

Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus I was able to access marine resources and molecular biology labs simultaneously. More importantly it was an incredible experience to work in a highly stimulating environment and the HCMR staff was incredibly helpful. The work had a great impact in shaping my PhD research and will likely end up with future collaborations.

Benthic diatoms of the Gulf of Naples: morphology and molecular approaches 
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)


Paola Cardenas
University of Concepción
(Chile)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus because it was an excellent opportunity to expand my research on learning in the study of benthic diatoms with morphological and molecular approaches. 

The microphytobenthos is poorly explored component of marine life despite the evidence on their contribution to primary production, regulation of nutrient, oxygen fluxes, function as sediment consolidators, and their role in the trophic web. Benthic diatoms are the major component of benthic microalgal communities and can reflect the environmental status and alterations of a given ecosystem. Therefore, I wanted to explore the isolation, culturing, and characterization of benthic diatoms and the taxonomy of this group, using electron microscopy to observing the ultrastructure of the cells.

The information acquired contributes to the generation of a benthic diatom database.  The development of the ASSEMBLE project allowed me to gain experience in various topics, especially in the developing skills in the study of modern taxa, and procedures and techniques that could pursue to develop in my future career. The team of researchers from SZN gave me all their support.

Investigating the effects of anthropogenic disturbance on benthic sedimentary marine carbon stores
Access provider: Tvärminne Zoological Station, Finland (TZS)


Kirsty Eleanor Black
University of St Andrews (Scotland)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to gain access to experimental aquaria facilities at the Tvärminne Zoological Station to carry out a 21-day time series experiment assessing the impacts of massive sediment resuspension effects on particulate and dissolved organic carbon. Sedimentary stores of carbon represent an extremely important yet poorly quantified part of global natural capital due to their ability to store and “lock away” carbon which would otherwise contribute towards greenhouse gas emissions. However, the stability and resilience of these sedimentary carbon stores under increasing anthropogenic pressures (e.g. benthic trawling) is poorly understood.

The aim of my research at TZS was to examine and quantify the potential impacts of benthic disturbance on sedimentary marine carbon stores.

Without the support from ASSEMBLE Plus this research for my PhD thesis would not have been possible. I would like to thank the staff at TZS for making my visit to Finland so welcoming and memorable.

Seabird Ecology, Marine Renewable Energy Installations, Hydrodynamics, Environmental Impacts
Access provider: Institute of Marine Research, Portugal (IMAR)


James Waggitt
Bangor University
(United Kingdom)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus because I wanted to expand my research on coastal seabird communities into different regions, testing for consistencies in animal behaviour and habitat-use. In particular, I wanted to see whether animals repeatedly used similar hydrodynamic and bathymetric features. If they used different features, I wanted to explore what caused these differences. This information can reduce impacts on seabird communities from hard infrastructure including Marine Renewable Energy Installations.

The fieldwork performed in the ASSEMBLE Plus scheme not only answered my original questions, but also facilitated a new line of questions. This new line of questioning has led to ongoing collaborations with people I have met during my access, and the development of larger research proposals. The experience done during my TA project have been invaluable in progressing my career: I am investigating topics I would not have considered before, and I am building a network of contacts and study sites across Europe.

Exploring metabolism patterns of benthic habitats using eddy covariance fluxes and seabed imaging techniques
Access providers: Tritonia Scientific Ltd., UK (TSL) and Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, UK (SAMS )


Karl Attard
University of Southern Denmark 
(Denmark)

I applied for access to Tritonia Scientific Limited (TSL) and to the Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (SAMS) near Oban in Scotland. TSL are experts in photogrammetry, which is a technique that allows mapping an area of the seafloor (typically ~100 m2) with high mm-scale resolution. In my project, I proposed to try to link seafloor biodiversity measurements obtained using photogrammetry to habitat metabolism dynamics measured in situ using aquatic eddy covariance, the latter being my area of expertise.

We had a great couple of weeks researching a mussel reef nearby SAMS and TSL, and we are currently working up our data for publication. The experience was overall very positive.

ASSEMBLE Plus fills an important void within the funding sphere by allowing young scientists such as myself to pursue interesting side-projects and initiate collaborations that would otherwise be impossible due to funding constraints.

Invasive and cryptic ascidians: discovery and integrative taxonomy
Access providers: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR), Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, Israel (IUI), and Hellenic Centre of Marine Research, Greece (HCMR


Federica Montesanto
University of Bari
(Italy)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to collect ascidians species from the marine environment of three access providers: SBR, IUI and HCMR. Ascidians are one of the main component of biofouling: when introduced, they can rapidly grow and become invasive. My goal is the early identification of non-indigenous species, as well as the identification of possible species complex/cryptic/new species, through an integrated taxonomy approach, since exact specific identification is the major difficulty in ascidians studies.

Thanks to ASSEMBLE Plus I had the opportunity to find and collect several non-indigenous species from all the access providers and this amazing experience gave me the opportunity to obtain a huge quantity of data that I will analyse during my PhD. And more to the point, all the different local team of researchers were incredibly supportive, playing a fundamental role in the success of the project!

Ecological impact assessments of salmon aquaculture using eDNA metabarcoding: distinguishing natural community variation from organic enrichment effects
Access provider: Scottish Association for Marine Sciences, UK (SAMS)


Thorsten Stoeck
Technische Universität Kaiserslautern (Germany)

ASSEMBLE Plus provides an excellent opportunity that enables “land-locked” research facilities to conduct marine research. ASSEMBLE Plus also offers top marine research facilities with breathtaking infrastructure useful for my project: the institute SAMS gives access to a field site I am deeply interested in: an open-water based coastal finfish cage farm.

One of my research topics is to obtain a deeper understanding of the ecology of benthic microbial communities around fish farms. Microbes react very sensitively to environmental stressors so they can be used to identify bioindicators to assess the effect of aquaculture disturbances on the benthic environment. This can help to guide an informed farm management and support environmental compliance monitoring. SAMS was an ideal choice for my project not only for its infrastructure and research possibilities: the staff has been very supportive, organizing everything perfectly and leaving no wishes open!

During my stay at SAMS I have also met colleagues with similar research interests, with whom I established a sustainable and fruitful collaboration. Overall, a very valuable and pleasant experience and scientifically very fruitful.

Tropicalization of marine forest in North-Western Iberia: from kelp forest to algal turf assemblages
Access provider: Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research, Portugal (CIIMAR)


Cristina Piñeiro-Corbeira
University of A Coruña (Spain)

In our project, we study the loss of kelp forest and their replacement by algal turfs. Although there are evidences of this seascape changes worldwide, in NW Iberia have not been studied yet. NW Iberia coastlines are the southern distributional range of some kelp species, and to know if kelps are disappearing from sites where were present before is very useful.

ASSEMBLE Plus offered me the opportunity to go to CIIMAR in Porto and collaborate with researchers with high experience in the study of kelp forests in this region. My stay at CIIMAR was very fruitful and useful thanks to the organization, hospitality and experience in studies of the marine environment of CIIMAR researchers.

CIIMAR has the necessary infrastructure and equipment to carry out any work in the marine environment, and qualified staff to help you in both laboratory and fieldwork.

Niche to Ecozone- Network Analysis of Benthic Structures Through Advanced 3D Photogrammetry
Access provider: Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute, St. Eustatius (NIOZ-CNSI)


Matan Yuval
University of Haifa
(Israel)

The core aim of my research is automated analysis of the benthos. Utilizing photogrammetry, I study sessile organisms along depth gradients. In Israel, we have access to the Red Sea as well as the eastern Mediterranean.

I applied for access in the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) in St. Eustatius to complement our local results with data from a dissimilar region. The main benefit obtained was the opportunity to practice our workflow in a different region. The main challenges encountered were related to the difference in sea conditions and benthic assemblage. For example, fan-corals in surge fail to reconstruct coherently in image-based 3D models. In ten days, we carried out over 25 scientific dives, much obliged to the kind support from the CNSI team and M. Doherty.

We mapped sections of the natural and artificial reefs around the island, and developed ideas and connections. The 3D map-models can be viewed online at https://skfb.ly/6KTp6

Assessing how adaptation and acclimatization influence the skeletal morphology of corals along a depth gradient in the Red Sea
Access provider: Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, Israel (IUI)

 

Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley
Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (Bermuda)

I am a coral reef ecologist and evolutionary biologist focusing on mesophotic coral ecosystems. In 2016, I had to pleasure of meeting Dr. Tali Mass at a conference. Our mutual research interests and goals, as well as a focus on northerly reef systems, me in Bermuda and Dr. Mass in Eilat, led to the conception of a comparative study. To initiate this new project, we sought funding from the ASSEMBLE Plus, which enabled me to travel to Israel and complete field work at the IUI in Eilat. Our research seeks to elucidate the various roles of phenotypic plasticity compared to evolutionary adaptation in structuring coral morphology along a depth gradient.

In Eilat, we examined the morphology and gene expression of early life stage corals ranging from 5m to 45m depths. From these experiments, we hope to gain insights to the resilience of corals to changing environmental conditions and the potential of deep reefs to serve as a refuge for coral health.

Our initial research, facilitated by the ASSEMBLE Plus, proved extremely successful and has resulted in a manuscript currently under review for publication and continued collaboration.

Assessment of amoeboid protists in a planktonic community of the Bay of Villefranche
Access provider: Institut de la Mer de Villefranche, France (IMEV)


Alexander Kudryavtsev & Ekaterina Volkova
Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Russia)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus Transnational Access program to addresses the questions of taxonomy and phylogenetic relationships of the naked lobose amoebae (Amoebozoa), and to analyze patterns of their geographic distribution and species problem.

We chose IMEV, because at this stage of our research we decided to focus on marine planktonic members of the group that hardly ever got close attention as amoebae are mostly considered to be benthic microorganisms. IMEV has a unique location for this purpose that offers a convenient access to marine planktonic communities at the depths down to >200 m where samples could be collected on a daily basis.

The efforts were rewarded by isolation of so far about 30 living strains of marine gymnamoebae mostly representing new species, and re-isolation of some extremely rare unique species of amoebae known since a long time, with the chance to re-investigate them using new tools.

Mechanisms governing the distribution of protistan plankton communities along salinity gradients in the Baltic Sea
Access provider: Husö Biological Station, Åland Islands (HBS)

Sabine Filker
University of Kaiserslautern (Germany)

My group’s research interest is on the identification of mechanisms that govern the distribution patterns of microeukaryotes along salinity gradients. This knowledge is important to understand the processes that create and maintain biodiversity, and the function and dynamics of ecosystems. Previously, we revealed salinity-specific transition boundaries, which by certain groups of microeukaryotes cannot be crossed. In order to answer the resulting research questions,

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to obtain access to Husö Biological Station (HBS) on Aland. We were able to collect important samples from coastal brackish water of the Baltic Sea and also conduct controlled micro/mesocosm experiments to study freshwater-marine transition adaptations at community level.

My experience with ASSEMBLE Plus and the staff of HBS was just excellent. HBS is perfectly equipped for field and mesocosm experiments, with incredibly friendly and supportive staff. I am very grateful for the many advice they provided regarding sampling locations on the island to accomplish our field work.

Assessment of the effect of microplastics in Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) in Northern Adriatic
Access provider: National Institute of Biology, Slovenia (NIB)


Stoimir Kolarevic
& Margareta Kračun

University of Belgrade
(Serbia)

I have applied for Transnational Access (TA) in the Marine Biology Station in Piran together with my colleague Dr Margareta Kračun-Kolarević. We were interested in moving the knowledge gained in freshwater ecosystem research to marine ecosystems. The major objective of our project was studying of the effects of microplastics and adsorbed pollutants on Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis) as sentinel species. Their effect was measured under ecological relevant scenario for the Northern Adriatic, simulated in the controlled experimental conditions. The focus was placed on DNA damage as an endpoint of specific interest in indicated scenario.

Research started within the TA was a milestone for further cooperation. Currently our institutions are preparing joint project within the call for the projects for bilateral cooperation of republics Serbia and Slovenia.

Visiting Marine Biology Station in Piran was outstanding experience. We had wonderful hosts in the Station providing everything we needed for high quality research. We would strongly recommend Marine Biology Station to future TA users.

Distribution patterns and ecology of (invasive) benthic foraminifera in shallow-water habitats of Crete
Access provider: Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture, Greece (IMBBC)


Annekatrin Enge
University of Vienna (Austria)

I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to get access to marine ecosystems of Crete and to experimental facilities at HCRM to be able to collect benthic foraminifera and study their ecology under laboratory conditions.

The aim of my project is to study benthic foraminiferal communities in coastal habitats of Crete and to document the presence and distribution of species that have not been reported for Crete before. The ongoing rise in water temperature and the opening of the Suez Canal make it possible for warm-water species to occur in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, which can lead to changes in community structures and biodiversity. With ASSEMBLE Plus I was able to obtain samples from a variety of marine habitats around Crete and to successfully run experiments with the desired species.

I would like to thank the scientific divers, researchers and staff at HCMR for their support and to make my stay a great experience.

 

Exploring the impact of the iodine store in Laminaria digitata and L. hyperborea on coastal seawater chemistry
Access provider: Tritonia Scientific Ltd., UK (TSL)


Carl Carrano
San Diego State University (USA)

Marine production of organic halogenated compounds are an important link between ocean biology, atmospheric composition, and climate. 

Since many coastal ecosystems dominated by macroalgae have been identified as major contributors to the biogeochemical flux of iodine and iodocarbons to the atmosphere, we think that these organisms could influence iodine speciation in the coastal waters. 

Looking to extend these studies to cold-water macro brown algae such as various species of Laminaria we were able, through ASSEMBLE Plus support through SAMS and Tritonia Scientific, to collect water samples to help support a role for brown algae in affecting iodine speciation in the coastal ocean.

Characterization of the epizoic microbiota of the Mediterranean sea turtles
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)

 

Suncica Bosak
Faculty of Science,
University of Zagreb
(Croatia)

In our research project we are studying the microbiota, the bacteria and microeukaryotes that reside on the skins, carapaces and within the body of loggerhead sea turtles living in different areas of the Mediterranean Sea. I have applied to the ASSEMBLE Plus project together with my PhD student Klara Filek to visit sea turtles that are rehabilitated in the Centro Ricerche Tartarughe Marine, a part of Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn as SZN is the only institution within the consortium that provides access to these endangered marine animals.

Characterization of epizoic microbiota of loggerheads is of importance for these animals as it can provide the insight to the many aspects of the sea turtle biology including their habitat use or signal the anthropogenic impact on the marine environments. Furthermore, the changes in micro-epizoic biofilms of sea turtles kept in captivity from those in wild animals could serve as an important indication of the animal health.

Our hosts at SZN were very friendly and supportive, as well as the people in the laboratories and administrative support that we received in SZN central building. Overall, a very positive and successful experience!


 

Assessing impact of bottom trawl fishing and oxygen depletion on benthic invertebrates
Access provider: Gdańsk University, Poland (UG-IO)


Daniel van Denderen
Danish Technical University
(Denmark)

"I have applied to ASSEMBLE Plus with my colleague Jan Geert Hiddink (Bangor University) to access the research vessel "Oceanograf" of the Gdańsk University (UG-IO) in Poland and to carry out fieldwork in Polish waters, which are affected by bottom trawling and hypoxia.

These are globally important pressures that affect marine benthic habitats and benthos, animals such as worms and shellfish that live on or in the seafloor. To understand interactions between trawling disturbance and hypoxia on benthos.

Without ASSEMBLE Plus access this project and forthcoming publications could not have happened. Our experience with the ASSEMBLE Plus program was highly positive. We thank the host from Gdańsk University and the crew from the research vessel for their great support, making it both a pleasant and very valuable research expedition"


 

Molecules meet fossils – an integrated approach to studying palaeodiversity 
Access provider: Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland (IOPAN)


Andrea Waeschenbach
Natural History Museum
(United Kingdom)

"In our project we are studying the patterns and processes of diversification in the marine realm over the last 160 million years, using bryozoans as exemplar group. In our work we analyse fossil and molecular data simultaneously in an attempt to disentangle the effects of key innovations and abiotic factors on diversification fluctuations.

ASSEMBLE Plus offered me the opportunity to join the research vessel Oceania at IOPAN (Poland) during the Svalbard Archipelago cruise to collect bryozoans for DNA sequencing. Many of the species collected occur exclusively in Arctic waters, enabling us to incorporate rare species into our molecular phylogenetic framework.

My experience aboard the research vessel Oceania was outstanding. Our host dr. Piotr Kuklinski provided great expertise in collecting and identifying Arctic bryozoans, took care of all the logistics and provided all necessary equipment and chemicals. Furthermore, the onboard scientific facilities and living quarters were excellent and the food was delicious. Overall, a well-organised and successful trip!"


 

Establishment of cell fates in the early branching annelid Owenia fusiformis
Access provider: Station Biologique de Roscoff, France (SBR)


Chema Martin
Queen Mary University
of London (United Kingdom)

"I applied to ASSEMBLE Plus to get remote access to the segmented worm Owenia fusiformis, a marine species that inhabits the costs near the Station Biologique de Roscoff (SBR) in France. Over the last years, I have established this marine worm as a research system in evolutionary developmental biology to understand the origins of segmented (annelid) worms, one of the most diverse animal groups on Earth.

The ASSEMBLE Plus program allows me to study the same natural population of Owenia fusiformis over the years, thus assuring a more or less constant genetic diversity in our studies.

Thanks to the remote access provided by ASSEMBLE Plus, my lab has collected samples to investigate how this fascinating marine worm reproduces and develops. Overall, the experience and interaction with the people in charge of ASSEMBLE Plus has been fantastic, always willing to help and make the most out of my research project."


 

Ichthyoplankton biodiversity on the Atlantic seamount condor using DNA metabarcoding
Access provider: Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Italy (SZN)


Diana Catarino
University of the Azores
(Portugal)

"I applied to the Transnational Access program of ASSEMBLE Plus when I was on the verge of completing my PhD in population genetics and I wanted to explore other research fields as metagenetics.

ASSEMBLE Plus gave me the opportunity to access to cutting edge HTS sequencing platforms not present in my institute but available at Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn of Naples (SZN) in Italy. My project focused on the ichthyoplankton biodiversity on an Atlantic seamount using DNA metabarcoding, and the main goals were to create an inventory of the ichthyoplankton for the region using DNA metabarcoding and compare the efficiency of this genetic approach with traditional methods.

The project ends up being very successful with more than 5 million sequences generated from the ichthyoplankton samples used, and to be analyzed throughout my postdoc. Publications are now being prepared in collaboration with SZN researchers. The use of the facilities together with the expertise and advice from the local team of researchers were key factors in improving the likelihood of success of this project."


 

Shedding light on the reproductive strategies of Antipathella subpinnata 
Access provider: Observatoire Océanologique de Banyuls sur mer, France (OOB)


Martina Coppari 
University of Genoa
(Italy)

"The main topic of my research is the ecology and biology of black coral species. A huge knowledge gap exists about the reproductive biology of these species and their larval ecology. With the aim to shedding light on these aspects, and considering the impossibility to perform such studies in my home institution, I applied to the ASSEMBLE Plus project in order to collaborate with larval ecology and corals experts.

I collected several colonies of the most emblematic black coral species of the Mediterranean Sea Antipathella subpinnata to highlight different aspects of its reproductive behavior. Thanks to the ASSEMBLE Plus project I had the possibility to use the aquarium facilities of the Oceanographic Observatory of Banyuls-sur-Mer (OOB), which set up an experimental tank to host the coral colonies and to perform experiments and observations. During my stay at OOB I could describe qualitatively and quantitatively an asexual reproductive strategy, the bail-out, already know to occur in black coral species but never described in Antipathella subpinnata.

My experience as an ASSEMBLE Plus user was extremely positive and crucial to perform these studies."

 

Structure and rates of energy fluxes in the plankton assemblages of the Gullmar fjord
Access provider: Kristineberg Marine Research Station, Sweden (KMRIC)


Danilo Calliari 
Universidad de la Republica
(Uruguay)

"The mechanisms that modulate the fluxes of energy and organic matter in the marine pelagic ecosystem constitute one central topic of interest in our investigations. The microzooplankton is a ubiquitous group of (mostly) unicellular protozoans which are thought to constitute the main grazers of marine primary production. Those are also very delicate organisms, and experimental research on their ecology requires carefully controlled conditions.

We applied to ASSEMBLE Plus in order to access laboratories and equipments at Kristineberg Marine Research Station (Sweden) where infrastructure for experimental research on marine organisms and ecosystems is nearly ideal. During one month we developed a series of experiments which provide clear evidence on density-dependent grazing rates by the natural microzoplankton community of the Gullmar Fjord.

It was an overall great experience, where we managed to obtain valuable results on a short time under a very pleasant working environment.

Outcomes of the research activity performed within the Transnational access are and will be Open Access and have already been published in the ASSEMBLE Plus Open Repository, here!

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