Project description

Biofilms are slimy coatings that consist of dense layers of microorganisms like bacteria and microalgae, and they have probably already made you slip exploring that rockpool at the coast or in a river. Although biofilms play an important role in coastal ecosystems, they can also be detrimental. On ship hulls, for example, biofilms increase drag, causing higher fuel consumption, which makes the development of biofilm prevention strategies a useful goal. However, research on biofilms is difficult because they consist of multiple species and they have complex three-dimensional structures. These features complicate biofilm research, requiring careful planning, modern techniques and a combination of different approaches.

During my PhD I investigated the interaction between bacteria and diatoms, a group of microalgae. Previous studies showed that several marine bacteria use so called “quorum sensing” molecules as a chemical communication system. I hypothesized that diatoms – despite belonging to a different kingdom in the tree of life – could respond to these molecules. Therefore, I treated diatoms with synthetic quorum sensing molecules and analysed their photosynthetic efficiency and gene expression during exposure. In addition, I developed a method to measure the concentration of quorum sensing molecules in natural biofilms.

Affiliation: Research Group “Protistology & Aquatic Ecology“, Ghent University, Belgium

Supervisors: Prof. Wim VyvermanProf. Sven Mangelinckx & Prof. Anne Willems

Funding: EU Horizon 2020 program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement (No. 642575). The project was part of an innovative training network with the title: “The Algal Microbiome: Friends and Foes (ALFF)”, coordinated by Dr. Claire Gachon (The Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK).

Collaborations: VIB Ghent, Belgium • University of Konstanz, Germany • University of Jena, Germany • University of Munster, Germany • Weizman Institute of Science, Israel

Skills: Cell biology • Cell culturing • Growth assays • Fluorescence spectroscopy • Molecular biology • Transcriptomics • Microbiology • Analytical chemistry • LC-MS/MS