Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - BLUEPHARMTRAIN (BluePharmTrain)


BluePharmTrain was set up with the following Scientific & Technological Objectives:
• Establish routines for the isolation of sponge-specific microorganisms by integrating novel high-throughput cultivation strategies and state-of-the-art genomics and transcriptomics.
• Establish sponge cell cultures of target species by translating ecology into technology.
• Develop heterologous expression tools for sponge-derived bioactives.
• In addition, we aim to provide a fundamental understanding of the sponge holobiont.


Selected BluePharmTrain key sponge species Aplysina aerophoba, Dysidea avara, Geodia barretti and Haliclona simulans and/or other sponge species have been assessed for:
- the presence of bioactive compounds (UI & PM)
- sponge growth in the natural environment and captivity (Matis, CSIC and CU)
- growth of sponge cells (WU)
- growth of sponge-associated bacteria (WU, ETHZ, DSMZ and UCC)
- identification of novel bioactive gene clusters and enzymes (ETHZ, TUT, UCC, RUG)
- unravelling the symbiotic network in sponges (RUG)
- social and legal aspects related to marine biotechnology (CU)

The BluePharmTrain key sponges did not result in the discovery of significant amounts of novel bioactive compounds. This was according to the research proposal as a selection of sponges done on the basis of diversity of known compounds that could serve as a baseline for experiments in vitro and in silico. According to the same line of thought, the growth rate of sponges in nature serves as a baseline for comparison growth rates ex situ (in aquaria) and in vitro. Seasonal growth rates of Dysidea avara and Halichondria panicea are currently monitored by CEAB and Matis, respectively. In comparison with their wild counterparts, it became apparent that the microbial communities in sponges in captivity show drastic changes, which may be related to the difficulties in growing sponges in captivity.
In order to establish sponge cell cultures a novel approach has been adopted as sponge cells seem to perish rapidly in a dissociated state. Therefore a system has been developed to encapsulate sponge cells in microdroplets that can be made at a large scale and allow the monitoring of individual sponge cells and sponge cell aggregates.
A number of studies within the consortium have focussed on the isolation of sponge-associated bacteria as a method to unlock the known and perhaps unknown secondary metabolites of BluePharmTrain key sponge species. Several novel species have been isolated, but the most promising isolate till now is the isolation of a sponge-specific actinobacterium from the Icelandic sponge Geodia Macandrewi at DSMZ.
For the detection of novel secondary metabolites ETHZ is currently developing a tool ( that predicts the chemical structure of a polyketide based on the nucleotide sequence of the cluster. This will allow a rapid way to predict chemical novelty based on nucleotide sequences. We have not only looked at secondary metabolism, but for two of the four BluePharmTrain key sponge species (Aplysina aerophoba and Dysidea avara), but are working on the metabolic network within the sponge. From the two before mentioned sponges triplicate samples have been taken for simultaneous metagenomic, metatranscriptomic, metaproteomic and metabonomics. The large dataset will be used to serve also as a reference database for all ‘omics’ studies that will follow within BluePharmTrain.
In collaboration with all participants the ER fellow at CU had begun to investigate the legal regulation and responsible innovation of marine biotechnology related to access to genetic resources and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their utilization, legal protection of the marine environment and biodiversity and the intellectual property issues arising from using marine sponges for the development of new pharmaceuticals.

BluePharmTrain contributes to the implementation of the objectives of the EU Blue Growth. Anticipated impacts of BluePharmTrain: In the EU communication on Blue Growth (EC COM 494-2012), marine (blue) biotechnology has been identified as one of five focus areas with large potential for economic growth. BluePharmTrain is expected to accelerate the development of new marine-derived products by unlocking the biological potential of the most versatile producer in the marine environment –sponges- and hence, to accelerate the growth of the blue economy in Europe. Furthermore, by investigating multiple potential applications of marine natural products, the project will contribute to the desired growth of the Blue Biotechnology sector from a niche market specializing on highly added value products into a medium-sized market for the production of metabolites and primary compounds. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, by contributing to structuring the European Research Area encompassing methodological, scientific, technical and educational aspects, BluePharmTrain will effectively sustain the Blue Growth agenda by reinforcing its very base: human resources and the Key Enabling Technologies they rely upon.


Attachment: BluePharmTrain logo

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Life Sciences
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