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Marine Micro-Algae as Global Reservoir of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Degraders

Periodic Report Summary - MARPAH (Marine micro-algae as global reservoir of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon degraders)

This Marie Curie project was formulated to identify new species of marine bacteria that degraded polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) using microbiological techniques and state of the art molecular methods that included deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) based stable isotope probing (DNA-SIP).

In addition to providing greater insight on the identity and functioning of the marine microbial world, this information was anticipated to enhance our design of more efficient ways in cleaning up marine hydrocarbon pollution. The objectives that defined this Marie Curie project are summarized as follows:
1. to discover new species or genera of marine bacteria that could degrade PAHs
2. to determine whether certain species of PAH-degrading bacteria were found associated with particulate matter and infer on their distribution in the world ocean
3. to design experimental protocols to measure PAH degradation in field samples under conditions that simulated natural conditions in the upper ocean surface
4. to learn novel techniques and skills that the fellow would bring back to the return host institution for implementation and to initiate collaborative activities between both host institutions
5. to disseminate the research output from this project at international meetings and in peer-review journals.

This Marie Curie fellowship allowed the fellow the opportunity to undertake approximately two initial years of research experience with a research group at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, United States of America. This group had extensive expertise on the use of microbiological and molecular tools to identify PAH-degrading bacteria in environmental samples. Since the fellow arrived at UNC 12 months' ago, he successfully acquired training in conducting DNA-based SIP experiments and other skills which he then applied to the study of PAH-degrading bacteria in the ocean. During this time, the fellow identified novel organisms based on 16S ribosomal ribonucleic acid (rRNA) sequencing, and, by the time of this report, he was in the process of systematically characterising these new organisms using phylogenetic, genotypic and phenotypic analyses.

To date, this research revealed new insights on the occurrence, distribution and ecology of PAH-degrading bacteria, including the discovery of new genera and species of these organisms, in the ocean.