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The Biodiversity, Systematics and Guide to the Identification of Marine Benthic Ciliates

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EU and China team up on seabed microbes

Scientists from China and the EU joined forces to increase our understanding of the role of marine benthic ciliates in the natural environment.

Climate Change and Environment

The project 'The biodiversity, systematics and guide to the identification of marine benthic ciliates' (BENTHIC CILIATES) investigated the species diversity of ciliates. Ciliates are unicellular organisms that possess hair-like structures known as cilia, and can be used as indicators of environmental quality. However, little is known about marine benthic ciliates, which live on the seabed. The project carried out three main tasks. The first two involved a study of species diversity of marine benthic ciliates and the provision of molecular sequencing data for selected taxa. The third task involved the development of a web-based guide to ciliate identification. Different kinds of sediment were collected from sampling sites along the southern and north-eastern coasts of China and cultured in the laboratory. Researchers observed and photographed the live ciliates. They stained the specimens using silver impregnation techniques to reveal their detailed structure and to create permanent slides. Morphological and statistical data from the live and stained specimens were used to identify 45 species of marine benthic ciliates. The team then investigated differentiation and growth (morphogenesis) of four species. BENTHIC CILIATES conducted DNA extraction and polymerase chain amplifications for 30 species and obtained sequence data for 15 species. It also carried out phylogenetic analyses, which reveals the evolutionary relationships among groups of organisms, for 10 species. Other project activities included a literature review and data compilation to create an open access web-based guide to benthic ciliates. The structure of the guide was constructed using a Scratchpad . The project employed the three main criteria on which modern ciliate taxonomy is based: morphology, morphogenesis and molecular. This resulted in the discovery of three new genera, 11 new sub-species and 19 new records for China. Molecular sequence data provided a more robust classification for several species that were previously of uncertain taxonomy. The molecular data also help to demonstrate the genetic relatedness between geographically distant localities. This will help the answer whether such taxa are widespread or geographically restricted in their distribution. BENTHIC CILIATES work will increase understanding of the importance of benthic ciliates in marine microbial ecology and their contribution to species diversity.


Seabed microbe, marine benthic ciliates, ciliates, environmental quality, molecular sequencing, morphogenesis, phylogenetic analyses, evolutionary relationships, Scratchpad, ciliate taxonomy, marine microbial ecology, species diversity

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