TASCMAR is an international collaborative research project funded under the EU's Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation. Through a collaboration between 13 academic and commercial project partners in eight countries, TASCMAR seeks to discover novel marine-derived biomolecules with industrial applications, looking to the ocean's under explored mesophotic zone. To find out more about the project and its consortium: http://www.tascmar.eu
TASCMAR was launched in April 2015. This first edition of our quarterly newsletter aims to provide you with a broad overview of our main achievements so far and to give a picture of the developments to follow.
Exploration of the ocean's mesophotic zone to source the project's marine bioresources well under way
Hudi Benayahu, Tel Aviv University
The biological adaptations of marine organisms to a wide range of environmental conditions have endowed them with a tremendous reservoir of diverse biological material for potential biotechnological uses. Marine invertebrates, such as soft corals, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and slugs inhabit the so called twilight or mesophotic zone. This zone has been defined as comprising the light-dependent organisms found at depths below 30 to >150 m in tropical and subtropical seas. Due to technical difficulties, up until the past decade most coral reef studies have been restricted to the upper ~30 m and as a result, data on the mesophotic has been sparse. Current technological advances, however, such as remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs), and closed-circuit re-breather diving, have now facilitated a thorough investigation of these depths.
The mesophotic zone is explored in TASCMAR by state of the art ROV and technical diving, giving rise to associated bio-resources (microorganisms and microalgae) and expected to produce bioactive compounds with anti-ageing industrial interest.
The project encompasses the Mediterranean Sea, northern Red Sea and Indian Ocean, including the Andaman Sea. During the first phase of the project samples, were collected from mesophotic sites never explored before, yielding high diversity of organisms, most of which were never studied before and some even new to science.
The highly skilled teams of TASCMAR have conducted an initial stage of field collections and symbiont isolation, which represent a challenging yet promising part of the project, all in correspondence with the most advanced scientific, environmental and safety considerations. It is expected that the following phase of the project will allow some further mesophotic collections of exotic organisms with their symbionts to be studied by the other partners of the project.
Top left: TASCMAR project partner NGO EcoOcean (Israel) launching the ROV for the collection. Top right: Marine invertebrate collected by TASCMAR project partner iMare Natural in the Costa Tropical of Spain. Bottom left: a hydroid in Salary Bay, Madagascar, photo taken by Stéphan Aubert, 2009 (Université de la Réunion). Bottom right: Xestospongia sp. in Mayotte. Photo taken by Philippe Prost, 2013 (Université de la Réunion).
State of the art Remotely Operatad Vehicle technology in action in the Eastern Mediterranean, operated by TASCMAR partner EcoOcean
Chemical and biological investigations into TASCMAR marine bioresources
Chemical investigations - Nikolas Fokialakis, University of Athens
More than 180 species of marine invertebrates and more than 300 associated microorganisms, that were previously collected from the under-explored mesophotic zone of the ocean, were chemically extracted in order to get all the bioactive molecules that they contain. All extracts were gathered to create a library of TASCMAR extracts and then were sent for biological evaluation. All extracts of interest were investigated for their chemical content and the metabolites present in each were identified using various analytical chemistry techniques.
More specifically, the tested extracts which were active in the bioevaluation process were examined for their metabolic profile and then were divided into a number of smaller quantities (fractions) during separation processes. The fractionation was followed by the preparation of a library of fractions for bio-evaluation, while the active extracts were tested, so as to recognize and eliminate from consideration
those active substances already studied (this process is known as dereplication). After the structure elucidation of unidentified compounds and according to the bioactivity profiles, some will be selected for further development.
Biological assays - Ioannis Trougakos, University of Athens
Significant progress has been made in screening chemical extracts isolated from different marine sources for their bioactivity against targets such as elastase, tyrosinase, proteasome and fyn kinase - all these targets are of significant biomedical and biotechnological interest.
A number of very bioactive extracts have been identified which were even more active than known (or marketed) inhibitors of these enzymes that were used as positive controls. This finding highlights the successful and effective procedure followed and holds promise for the future isolation of highly bioactive pure molecules. Currently, screening is being continued for newly isolated extracts, as well as at the level of microfractions of the most active extracts, so as to finally obtain pure bioactive compounds.
Focusing in on the potential of marine microorganisms
Géraldine Le Goff, Centre National de la Recherche Scientique (CNRS)
The TASCMAR project studies marine organisms from a global perspective. These organisms are dependent for their survival on the innumerable microorganisms living inside them and as a result, we consider the marine organism as a holobiont: a complex ecosystem consisting of the host and its microorganisms.
In the context of the TASCMAR project, we have already isolated 300 microorganisms (bacteria and filamentous fungi) from marine organisms collected between 0 and 30 metres depth.
These microorganisms were cultivated and chemical extracts were obtained using innovative techniques at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS). The results from the biological assays on these extracts are highly promising and reinforce our conviction that marine microorganisms represent an ideal natural source for the discovery of molecules with anti-aging activity.
We are currently working on a second collection of microorganisms, isolated from marine organisms from the ocean’s mesophotic zone. The study of microorganisms from this zone of the ocean – yet unexplored (but not for long thanks to TASCMAR!) – we feel will definitely lead to some exciting discoveries.
Marine invertebrate samples lead to an inextricable mix of microorganisms. Isolation of pure actinomycetes and fungi and their cultivation using Solid State Fermentation coupled with Solid Phase Extraction, requires experienced microbiologists.
TASCMAR impact assessment: challenges and opportunities of assessing a highly innovative, science-based and business-driven research project
Alessandra Prampolini (T6 Ecosystems), Asaf Ariel (ECOOCEAN)
Impact assessment is an essential asset for project management: on-going evaluation and self-evaluation allow fine-tuning work-flows and expected outputs, also preventing risks. TASCMAR focuses on a largely under-investigated area of research, the mesophotic zone, and on the still partially unknown bioresources deriving from that zone. This implies specific challenges regarding the available technologies, the marine bioprospecting activities and the
management of the collected resources, in order to deliver scientifically sound and environmentally sustainable results.
Over the next moths the results of the first project assessment will become available and the methodology will be refined for further assessments during the project duration. The final goal of TASCMAR assessment activities is to monitor the project life cycle and assess its expected impacts. The assessment builds on three areas of impacts that correspond to three evaluation indices: the social impact, the economic impact and the environmental impact. To date, an ad hoc methodology was built on a literature review, analysis and adaptation of impact assessment methodologies, and through a participatory approach involving the extensive consultations of project partners.
TASCMAR educational workshops
To date the TASCMAR consortium has organised educational workshops in France, Spain and Israel, reaching several hundred potential future scientists.
Top image: TASCMAR project partner iMare Natural offered a number of workshops both in their aquaculture facilities in Motril, Spain, and in local schools in the province of Granada. The picture above shows students from the Atalya high school visiting iMare in Mortil.
Lower image: TASCMAR coordinator Jamal Ouazzani with the students of Mines ParisTech in their second year of a masters degree in Biotechnology, after completing a one week TASCMAR training at the CNRS in Gif sur Yvette. The students were initiated into the various techniques for microbial cultivation, chemical extraction and biological and chemical analysis implemented in the project by CNRS.
TASCMAR is organising a dedicated session on Mesophotic ecosystems: mysteries and research challenges at the 52nd European Marine Biology symposium in Portorož (Slovenia). The session will be chaired by TASCMAR's Prof Yehuda Benayahu of Tel Aviv University. A keynote will also be given by TASCMAR project coordinator Dr Jamal Ouazzani. For more details: http://www.embs52.org/programme/
Join us @ the 52nd European Marine Biology Symposium on 25-29 September for a session on mesophotic ecosystems