During the year 2021, postgraduate researchers in phycology at the University of Malta (UM) have presented their results at a number of international conferences.
This research, related to algae growing around the Maltese shoreline and coastal waters, is the first of its kind, and highlights the importance of using molecular techniques to discover novel algal diversity. Marine algae are understudied by genetic methods in the Mediterranean area as a whole and the Maltese islands are no exception.
The team of researchers is led by Dr Gabrielle Zammit, from the Department of Biology at UM, and the research is carried out at the Lab of Applied Phycology of the Centre of Molecular Medicine and Biobanking.
"Novel DNA barcodes were sequenced for distinct groups of algae, microalgae and cyanobacteria that had been previously overlooked in Malta", said Dr Gabrielle Zammit. "This research contributes to a better understanding of marine algal biodiversity and ecology and was presented at the 12th International Phycological Congress, IPC2021, organised by the International Phycological Society and held in March this year", she continued.
At the conference, Gabrielle Zammit and Sarah Schembri gave a presentation about 'The genetic diversity of biofilm communities colonising a central Mediterranean shoreline' and the team, made of Angela Bartolo, Gabrielle Zammit, Akira Peters and Frithjof Küpper presented the study 'DNA barcoding of Ceramiales (Rhodophyta) around the Maltese islands reveals hidden biodiversity in the central Mediterranean'. The IPC conference abstracts are published in the journal Phycologia.
A scientific paper about rocky shore biota has just been published as a peer-reviewed pre-print in the Journal of Coastal Research. Dr Gabrielle Zammit explained "these cyanobacteria and microalgal strains are resistant to harsh environmental factors, such as extreme heat and salinity and can survive for extended periods under these conditions. Such microbial strains are a precious bioresource as they can help in afforestation by enhancing soil fertility in arid areas. As part of the research, these marine cyanobacteria and microalgae were subjected to experimental settings in which they were grown under elevated temperatures, UV-A and UV-B radiation, and a high CO2 concentration in order to study strain-specific responses to environmental stressors."
The research titled ‘Physiological and biochemical responses of marine microalgae to environmental stressors associated with global climate change’ was presented by Gabrielle Zammit and Kristina Fenech at the ISAP-2021 Conference, that was organised by the International Society for Applied Phycology between the 14 May and 13 August 2021.
Another presentation titled ‘DNA barcoding of Ulvophyceae around the Maltese islands reveals hidden biodiversity in the central Mediterranean’ will be given at the upcoming AlgaEurope Conference, that will be held between the 7 and 10 December 2021. The research is about algae from the genera Ulva and Ulvella, that are a valuable source of secondary metabolites and can be grown sustainably as an alternative food source and for application in biotechnological processes. The conference is organised by DLG Benelux, which forms part of the leading German consulting company for the agribusiness and food industry.