Of the many human impacts on the global ecosystem, the increasing antimicrobial resistance (AMR) of bacterial pathogens is a significant challenge. Mechanisms of AMR proliferation in the oceans are relatively poorly understood, although AMR is known to be elevated in artificial conditions such as on marine antifouling coatings. Increasing sea-surface temperatures can also promote the spread of human pathogens such as Vibrio vulnificus to UK shores. The increasing number of maritime structures requiring protection from fouling, enhanced AMR in their microbial populations and spread of pathogens by fouled ships and aquaculture facilities may therefore combine to pose a serious threat to marine biosecurity.
The microbiome, or prokaryotic flora associated with animals and plants, is critically important to the health of individuals as well as communities and, as a basis for this project, it will be necessary to first survey the microbiota of key biofouling organisms under natural and fouling conditions. We recently showed that the microbiome of barnacle larvae settling in the field was consistent between years, yet different to the surrounding environment. It remains unknown, however, how consistent this microbiome is between locations, seasons, species or natural vs artificial substrata. While barnacle larvae can travel significant distances, the larvae released by other fouling species e.g. sea squirts are often restricted in their dispersal distance and this may determine the potential of larvae to act as vectors of pathogens and AMR. As well as adult organisms, larvae will therefore be collected at various stages in the settlement process to establish the dynamics of microbiome development in invertebrate communities.
The project will be based on cutting-edge metagenomics approaches. Facilities and expertise in biofouling and marine pathogens will be provided by industrial CASE Partner PML Applications Ltd. The student will develop a range of research skills from field-collection of plankton samples to bacterial culture, fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH), amplicon and metagenomic sequencing and analysis with NU-OMICs (Northumbria University). They will also have the opportunity to develop experience in a range of bespoke laboratories as well as in the field, providing a strong base for their future research in molecular ecology.
This project is part of the ONE Planet DTP. Find out more here: View Website