Principal Investigators: Dr Dagmar Stengel, Dr Zoë Popper
This unit, located in the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, is a dedicated facility for the experimental and analytical research into algae (seaweeds, marine microalgae and freshwater macro- and microalgae).
The facility houses analytical equipment, high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) and gas chromatography (GC-MS) systems, allowing the study of organic compounds in algae under natural environmental conditions for biodiscovery and to detect environmental impacts in situ. Also metabolic change of algae (for example quantitative and qualitative changes in cell wall architecture) pre-conditioned for various purposes (biosensing, biodiscovery) can be quantified and impacts of climate change (pigmentation, MAAs, polysaccharide biosynthesis) be assessed. It further supports glycobiology, for example the study of evolutionary relationships using chemotaxonomy (polysaccharide structure).
Projects to which this facility contributes include the experimental manipulation of algal biology in the research field of environmental impact assessment, and investigations into physiological effects of environmental stresses (contaminants, climate change) on algae which can be used to trigger the production of biochemical compounds. These can then either be used as sensitive biomarkers for environmental change, or their bioactive properties could be of commercial interest with applications in pharmaceutical/biomedical/agricultural (or other) industries. The added advantage of this facility lies in the opportunity to conduct experimental research by investigating the direct effects of external impacts on seaweed biology; the environmental control of bioactive compounds can be monitored and this knowledge potentially used to manipulate the concentration and composition of useful compounds in the future. This research facility will also support projects in chemotaxonomy (of freshwater and marine algae), biomonitoring, biosensing and ecotoxicology.
The Facility provides infrastructural support to other facilities in the Ryan Institute; for example:
- Atmospheric Composition Change: exposure of algae to different climate scenarios and assess physiological and chemical responses and feedback processes.
- Marine Biochemical Cycles and Ecosystems: experimental exposure and analysis of algal responses contributing to marine biochemical cycles; e.g. organic metal chelation triggered by environmental impacts, chemical processes proceeding particle emission from algae; contribution to understanding of biological processes in response to environmental parameters including nutrients, irradiances (incl. UV), temperature etc., and anthropogenic impacts including pollution and eutrophication.
- Biodiversity and Natural Resources: this facility allows experimental manipulation and analysis of basic biological processes (growth, photosynthesis and metabolic responses) in response to environmental impacts.
Research currently concentrates on the application of intrinsic biological responses, such as changes in chemical composition (pigmentation, MAAs, sugar alcohols, carbohydrates) specifically in response to environmental impacts including irradiances (including UV), temperatures, desiccation, metal contamination or nutrient stress. An understanding of the physiological processes of algae under controlled and exposed conditions allows their use in environmental monitoring and, following on from this, the development of monitoring protocols and future policy making for coastal and freshwater management of relevance to the Marine Institute and EPA.
Current ERTDI-funded research in this field addresses problems of climate change impacts on keystone primary producers in the coastal environment which are also under pressure from significant utilisation. The facility, in combination with other, EPA- and Marine Institute-supported, infrastructure, allows the experimental manipulation and assessment of the interactions between physiological and biochemical characteristics and the environment and supports investigations into the interactions between the production of valuable compounds and environmental quality including eutrophication and climate change.
• “Characterisation of pigment levels and composition in brown algae from Galway Bay”. British Phycological Society. This project using HPLC analysis, will characterised the natural variation in pigment composition of brown algae from locations by varying turbidity, salinity and nutrient levels with Galway Bay. Additionally, targeted culture experiments (exposure to UV, salinity and nutrients) evaluated pigment responses to separate environmental parameters.
• “Plant cell wall palysaccharides: occurrence, localisation and characterisation.” NUI Galway Millennium Grant. This project aims to characterise plant cell wall polysaccharides, specifically hemicelluloses, many of which are involved in controlled expansive cell growth. Improved understanding of plant growth will facilitate future manipulation and utilisation and is of particular pertinence to the potential emerging biofuel industries.