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'Unraveling the role of marine fungi in plastic degradation in the ocean' by Annika Vaksmaa:

Plastic pollution is a global environmental problem that needs mediation. Marine fungi may contribute to the break-down of plastic polymers, however, it is unclear how and to what extent. This project aims to identify and culture novel plastic-degrading marine fungi and characterize their role in plastic degradation in the ocean.

Annika while doing fieldwork at sea. Photo: Annika Vaksmaa

Vaksmaa: "I am honored by receiving the VENI grant, which will allow me to highlight the importance of marine fungi and unravel their role in plastic degradation in the ocean. In research, we often find study avenues in areas we did not anticipate. In this regard, marine fungi are real gold! Plastic pollution is a global environmental problem and these organisms, often degrading complex organic matter, may be the key microbial players in breaking down the plastic in the ocean."

"I look forward to carrying out this research over the next three years, conducting exciting fieldwork in coastal regions and the open ocean to investigate fungal communities on marine plastic and isolating novel fungal species able to degrade these polymers. I will investigate the metabolic potential of these plastic degrading marine fungi to identify if they can use specific polymers as carbon and energy source and which enzymes are involved or responsible for plastic degradation."

Metabolic activity of individual benthic fauna in deep-sea habitats (INBREATH) by Tanja Stratmann

This research investigates the potential of heavy water as a new tool in aquatic ecology for tracing metabolic activity of benthic fauna to the level of individuals. Heavy water is incorporated into animal tissues irrespective of particular life processes, and may therefore be used to assess recovery after a disturbance.

Tanja preparing NIOZ’ benthic incubation chambers in the lab aboard RV Sonne in 2017. Photo: Tanja Stratmann

Stratmann : "I am very excited about being awarded the VENI grant from NWO because it will allow me to establish deuterium oxide, also known as heavy water, as a tracer to measure metabolic activity of individual benthic organisms in situ. I used different stable isotope tracers during my PhD and my Postdoc funded with a Rubicon grant from NWO, but these tracers are food-source based. This means that I enrich a food source in stable isotopes, such as 13C and 15N, and feed it to the fauna of interest."

"The deep sea, however, is a very food-limited ecosystem, so adding a pulse of food will likely lead to an overestimation of the metabolic activity of the fauna. Additionally, we often lack a good understanding of the diet preferences of benthic fauna, especially of deep-sea species, so that we likely feed them a food source they either do not encounter naturally (e.g., very labile food) or that they do not like".

Twee NIOZ-onderzoekers ontvangen Veni-financiering

De Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO) heeft twee veelbelovende NIOZ wetenschappers een Veni-financiering van 280.000 euro toegekend. Hiermee kunnen zij gedurende drie jaar hun eigen onderzoeksideeën verder ontwikkelen.

'Ontrafelen van de rol van schimmels bij de afbraak van plastic in de oceaan'door Annika Vaksmaa
Plasticvervuiling van oceanen is een groeiend milieuprobleem. Schimmels kunnen een rol spelen bij de afbraak van plastic maar hoe en in welke mate is nog onduidelijk. Dit project is gericht op het identificeren en cultiveren van plastic afbrekende schimmels en het karakteriseren van hun rol bij plasticafbraak in de oceaan.

'Metabolische activiteit van individuele bodemfauna in de diepzee (INBREATH)' door Tanja Stratmann
Dit onderzoek van Tanja Stratmann richt zich op gebruik van zwaar water als nieuwe tracer in de aquatische ecologie, voor het meten van metabolische activiteit van bentische fauna. Zwaar water wordt in weefsels geincorporeerd onafhankelijk van specifieke levensprocessen, en kan daarom gebruikt worden om ecosysteem herstel na een verstoring te onderzoeken