Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research

Essential lipids in the North Sea food web: a key role for heterotrophic protists?

Heterotrophic protists (HP) are a group of single-celled microorganisms, mainly comprised of nanoflagellates, ciliates and dinoflagellates. As important grazers of phytoplankton they transfer energy and metabolites to metazoan zooplankton, such as copepods, which are in turn consumed by fish. This includes several lipids that can’t be produced by these organisms themselves, such as sterols and omega-3 fatty acids. These lipids are called ‘essential lipids’, as they are required for optimal growth and reproduction.

The aim of this master student project is to investigate HP community dynamics and production, with an emphasis on their role in transferring essential lipids to their potential consumers. Sampling for the different seston and plankton size-fractions will be carried out with the RV Stern on the Marsdiep, a strait that connects the North Sea with the Wadden Sea. Seston community composition and metazoan gut content composition will be studied by several techniques, such as microscopy, flow cytometry and 18S rRNA gene sequencing. Lipid composition of these fractions will be determined by gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS).

Duration and starting time

This master student project will be for a period of 6-9 months and can be started between June and December 2018.


Housing on Texel is available, of which a part of the costs is covered by the NIOZ.

For question about this project, please contact:

Dr. Douwe Maat,