Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Sergio Balzano

Phone number
+31 (0)222 369 562

Research Overview

Postdoctoral researcher in marine microbiology and biogeochemistry I’m focusing on microalgae lipid interactions.
I’m currently investigating the genetic mechanisms for lipid biosynthesis in phytoplankton using microbiological and chemical techniques. I’m focusing on a highly energetic class of microalgal lipids (long chain alkyl diols) which might be exploited, in the future, for biofuel development.
In addition to the few microalgal species known to contain long chain alkyl diols I'm trying to identify other marine and freshwater microorganisms able to biosynthesise this compounds. I'm coupling lipid analyses with 18S rRNA gene pyrosequencing for this purpose.

I'm interested, in general, in the use of microalgae for biotech-relavant purposes (biosynthesis of specific compounds, phytodepuration, biofuel development). Modern sequencing techniques are shedding light on the genetic, metabolic, and chemical diversity of marine microbes but reconstructing the biosynthetic pathways for the biotechnologically relevant microbial products is the challenge of the coming decade. I´m Interested in (1) microalgal growth and lipid content optimisation for mass culturing (2)  reconstructing metabolic pathways, and (3) searching novel microbial products from aquatic phytoplankton using genomic, transcriptomic, lipidomic and bioinformatic approaches.  


I graduated (Bachelor + Master) in Environmental Sciences at Parthenope University, Naples, in 2004 with a master degree on phytoplankton taxonomy and morphology at the Stazione zoologica di Napoli. During my master I applied genetic and microscopic (SEM, TEM) techniques to investigate the diversity of a diatom genus (Skeletonema).

Between 2005- and 2008 I did a PhD at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (Uk) in Marine Biogeochemistry. I investigated the role of microbial population in the release of dissolved iron and manganese from marine aggregates.

In 2009 I started a Postdoc at the Station Biologique de Roscoff (West France) in collaboration with Prof. Daniel Vaulot. I investigated the diversity of photosynthetic pico and nanoeukaryotes in Arctic. I analysed photosynthetic populations sorted from seawater samples by flow cytometry using both culture independent and culture dependent approaches and subsequent molecular techniques (PCR, cloning/sequencing, T-RFLP).
I also worked with Dr Fabrice Not and investigated Transcriptomes from Radiolaria in order to identify symbiosis-specific genes.

From 2012 to 2014 I worked as research associate at Flinders University where I investigated microbial communities (both prokaryotes and eukaryotes) associated with a desalination plant. I also assessed the diversity of microbial eukaryotes along the Coorong Lagoon, a coastal lagoon affected by a broad salinity gradient.



Sarno D, Kooistra WHCF, Balzano S, Hargraves PE and Zingone A (2007). Diversity in the genus Skeletonema (Bacillariophyceae): III. Phylogenetic position and morphological variability of Skeletonema costatum and Skeletonema grevillei, with the description of Skeletonema ardens sp. nov. The Journal of Phycology 43:156-170.

Kooistra WHCF, Sarno D, Balzano S, Gu H, Andersen AR and Zingone A (2008). Global Diversity and Biogeography of Skeletonema species. Protist. 159: 177-193

Balzano S, Statham PJS, Pancost RD, Lloyd JR. (2009) Role of microbial populations in the release of reduced iron and manganese to the water column from marine aggregates. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 54:291-303

Balzano S, Pancost RD, Lloyd JR, Statham PJ. (2011) Changes in fatty acid composition in degrading algal aggregates. Marine Chemistry 124: 2-13

Balzano S, Kooistra WHCF and Sarno D (2011). Effects of salinity on the growth rate and morphology of ten Skeletonema strains. Journal of Plankton Research. 33(6):937-945

Balzano S, Marie D, Gourvil P and Vaulot D (2012). Composition of summer photosynthetic pico and nanoeukaryotes in Beaufort Sea assessed from flow cytometry sorted samples by T-RFLP and cloning/sequencing. The ISME journal, 6, 1480-1498

Balzano S, Gourvil P, Siano R, Chanoine M, Lessard S, Sarno D, Marie D, Vaulot D (2012). Diversity of cultured photosynthetic flagellates in the Beaufort Sea. Biogeosciences 9, 4553–4571

Balzano S, Le Lan C, Ellis A, Compas H, Jamieson T, Newton K, Brown M, Leterme SC (2014). Evaluation of transparent exopolymer particles and microbial communities found post-UV light, multimedia and cartridge filtration pre-treatment in a SWRO plant. Desalination and Water treatment 2014:1-13

Balzano S, Corre E, Decelle J, Sierra R, Wincker P, Da Silva C, Poulain J, Pawlowski J, Not F. (2015). Transcriptome analyses to investigate symbiotic relationships between marine protists. Frontiers in Microbiology 6 (98):1-17

Balzano S, Abs E, Leterme SC (2015). Protist diversity along a salinity gradient in a coastal lagoon. Aquatic Microbial Ecology 74:263-277

Balzano S, Ellis AV, Le Lan C, Leterme SC (2015). Seasonal changes in phytoplankton on the north-eastern shelf of Kangaroo Island (South Australia) in 2012 and 2013. Oceanologia 57: 251-262

Le Lan C, Ellis AV, Jamieson T, Blok A, Hemraj AD, Allais L, Balzano S, Leterme CS (2015). Analysis of raw and pre-treated seawater for potential biofouling precursors. Desalination 373: 71–78

Jamieson T, Ellis AV, Khodakov DA, Balzano S, Hemraj DA, Leterme SC. (2016) Bacterial production of transparent exopolymer particles 1 during static and laboratory-based cross-flow experiments. Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology: 2, 376–382

Percopo I, Ruggiero V, Balzano S, Siano R, Gourvil P, Vaulot D and Sarno D (2016). Description of two new species of Pseudo-nitzschia from the North Pacific and the Beaufort Sea. Journal of Phycology 52: 184–199

Balzano S, Percopo I, Siano R,  Gourvil P, Chanoine M, Marie D, Vaulot D, Sarno D. (2017). Morphological and genetic diversity of Beaufort Sea diatoms with high contributions from the Chaetoceros neogracilis species complex. Journal pf Phycology  53(1):161-187

Balzano S, Villanueva L., de Bar M., Sinninghe Damste J. S., Schouten S. (2017). Impact of culturing conditions on the abundance and composition of long chain alkyl diols in species of the genus Nannochloropsis. Organic Geochemistry 108: 9-17

Balzano S., Ellis AV, Leterme SC (2015). Dynamics of marine microbial communities in coastal waters of South Australia. Submitted.

Balzano S., Lattaud J., Rampen S., Brussard C, Bale N., Schouten S. (in preparation). Searching for the biological marine sources of long chain alkyl diols



NIOZ publications

Linked projects

ERC Long chain diols as novel organic proxies for paleoclimate reconstructions
Stefan Schouten
European Community - European Research Council
Project duration
2 Jan 2014 - 1 Apr 2021