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The Algal Microbiome: Friends and Foes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ALFF (The Algal Microbiome: Friends and Foes)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Globally, algal aquaculture is developing rapidly and is a multi-billion dollar industry employing millions of people. As any friend of Asian cuisine knows, algae are an important and healthy source of food that is growing in popularity, but we use algae also in many other industries. In the chemical and pharmaceutical industries algae serve as fertilizers, soil conditioners and for wastewater treatment. The energy industry has been developing biofuels from both microalgae and seaweeds and some scientists even suggest their use as a crude oil substitute. Algae are also popular ingredients in the cosmetics industry too.

But like all farmed crops, it is important to know what algae need to flourish, and to understand and control their diseases and pests. The single biggest biological challenge to further develop algal aquaculture is to first understand and then control both beneficial and harmful microbes – the microbial flora or algal microbiome. Some bacteria control the development of algae, others are indispensable for their survival while pathogens may cause devastating diseases, the impact of which worsens with the intensification of aquaculture practices. This is why we must study algae and their microbiome.
The main aims of ALFF research are to:

identify, classify and utilise naturally occurring algal symbionts and pathogens
tackle inter- and intra-species signalling and chemical ecology in aquaculture, the natural environment and simplified systems
harness state of the art genomics, molecular and biochemical techniques to characterise these interactions

Our research aims to support the development of superior mass algal cultivation and bio-control strategies.

ALFF also involves an ambitious outreach and public engagement programme in collaboration with highly renowned institutions such as the Flanders Marine Institute and the United Nations University. We are developing outreach materials for exhibitions, films, presentations and activities to help decision-makers and the public better understand the issues and opportunities relating to the sustainable use of our aquatic freshwater and marine resources.

ALFF is a multinational consortium consisting of universities, research institutes and companies based across Europe. This website contains information about our programme, its partners and our students. It also explains what we do, why we study algae and what we hope to achieve from our research into algal growth and aquaculture. The overarching aim of ALFF is to training 15 PhD students within this multinational consortium whilst bringing a fundamental scientific change in our understanding of these interactions, leading to the development of superior mass algal cultivation and biocontrol strategies.
These first 2 years comprised the start-up period with the recruitment of 15 young researchers, followed by their registration in a PhD programme and the initiation of their project. Our vision is to empower each student towards developing a unique scientific profile, which will maximise the overall employability of the student cohort at the end of the programme. Thus, each research project blends a unique combination of biological models, interdisciplinary approaches (esp. omics-related) to address a broad range of fundamental vs. applied research questions. Our students are now approaching or reaching the 18th month of their PhD and some have already started producing publications, with all making good progress against their individual scientific objectives. All scheduled network-wide events have been organised as planned. Now that our students have settled with their individual project, synergies between the different projects and consortium partners are increasingly being exploited.
The ALFF project foresees significant impact in three key areas: 1) 2) ; 3) .
We believe that we are well on course for ALFF to deliver exceptional impact in all three areas:
• enhancement of research and innovation-related human resources: each of our student is demonstrably developing a unique, interdisciplinary scientific profile of exceptional quality. Their language, presentation, and other transversal skills are also being thoroughly worked on. In the light of the track-record of ALFF partners concerning the professional integration of their alumni, both academia and the non-academic sector, the cohort of ALFF fellows is collectively on track to lead, shape, and grow the field of fundamental and applied phycology for decades to come.
• structuring PhD training at European level and strengthening European innovation capacity: the planned interconnectivity between the members of the consortium is already amply demonstrated (in particular through secondments and joint publications). The newly-established links inside and outside the consortium, and the corresponding updates of secondment plans, are a testimony of the vivid discussions that have been taking place. We are most proud that many new ideas for collaboration are formulated by our ESRs rather than their supervisors, which bodes well for their future ability to design, lead and implement collaborative research projects.
• communication and dissemination: the scientific productivity of our students is best demonstrated by the healthy stream of published papers and manuscripts in preparation, conference attendance, and the quality of the outreach initiatives that we’re pursuing. Note that ALFF has also started to fertilise the scientific output of their PhD supervisors.
Wherever the students, their supervisors or the ALFF Supervisory Board have identified an opportunity to enhance the scientific ambition of the programme, requests are being made to fine-tune the project. Our scrupulous monitoring of the students' progress allows us to quickly propose and implement strategies to mitigate any technical difficulties, or any other emerging issues beyond our control. The Supervisory Board and Advisory Board have repeatedly expressed every confidence that our continued efforts should guarantee the best possible outcome for the programme’s visibility overall, as well as for our students, in terms of training and employability at the end of the action.
young kelps grown in the lab in sterile coniditions
ALFF logo jpeg format
ALFF PhD students on field work in Roscoff, France