USDA-ARS news: researchers are Juicing Alfalfa as a Next-Generation Aquafeed

Cows and horses aren’t the only fans of alfalfa. Yellow perch like it, too. That’s what Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and their collaborators concluded when they fed the fish pellets made with a protein concentrate from the legume crop’s protein-rich leaves.

Information source: press release / USDA

They’re experimenting with alfalfa as part of a broader effort to find suitable alternatives to using fishmeal, a protein-rich ingredient in aquaculture feeds given to “farm-raised” finfish and shellfish. Aquaculture is the fastest-growing sector of the food industry worldwide, generating $1.37 billion in U.S. sales alone. However, there’s concern that increasing consumer demand for aquaculture products will outpace what the ocean’s wild-caught stock of sardine, anchovy, menhaden, and other small forage fish can supply as a fishmeal resource for aquafeeds.

According to Deborah Samac, who leads the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minnesota, formulating aquafeeds with plant-based proteins could help lessen the need for fishmeal in aquafeeds, reducing aquaculture’s impact on aquatic natural resources. Using nutritious, affordable alternatives to fishmeal could also ease the burden on pelagic fish populations, which are important members of the marine ecosystem and its inhabitants, particularly larger predatory species.

Soybean meal, barley, and algae are among alternatives being explored or already commercialized. Now, many of the same qualities that make alfalfa “Queen of the Forages” (and third-largest U.S. field crop) could put it on the aquafeed shortlist as well. These include a crude protein content of 15 to 22 percent and a rich assortment of vitamins, including A, B, and D, as well as minerals such as magnesium and copper.

Alfalfa is typically fed to dairy cows, beef cattle and horses as hay, silage or a direct forage. But it can also be “juiced” for its protein concentrate, and that’s the form Samac and her University of Minnesota (UM) collaborators used for their yellow perch feeding trials.

The actual formulation process can involve passing alfalfa leaves through a screw press, squeezing out juices, and then heating and centrifuging them to produce a protein concentrate, which is then dried and processed into small pellets along with other ingredients.

The feeding trial results showed that perch given pellets containing the alfalfa protein concentrate (APC) gained somewhat less weight than perch given fishmeal formulations. But there was little difference between their health, longevity, and overall wellbeing. Their fillet yields, quality, composition, and flavor were also similar.

According to Samac, alfalfa could help impart greater sustainability to the $133.5 billion global aquafeed market by virtue of the ecosystem “services” and other benefits the crop provides.

For example, as a legume, it is a superstar at naturally converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form that corn and other crops can use for their growth, alleviating the need to apply chemical fertilizers. Alfalfa’s robust growth makes it an ideal cover crop, anchoring the soil, retaining its moisture, helping it store carbon, and controlling weeds. Alfalfa flowers are also important food for both wild and domesticated bees, contributing to the latter’s production of honey, wax, and other products.

Samac said additional studies are underway to fine-tune the APC concentrations used in aquafeed formulations, evaluate different processing methods, and expand feeding trials, which include rainbow trout. Value-added uses for byproducts of the APC juicing process will also be explored, she added.

Her collaborators on the effort are Jessica Coburn, Scott Wells, Craig Sheaffer, Roger Ruan, and Nicholas Phelps—all of UM in St. Paul—and Gibson Gaylord of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bozeman Fish Technology Center. Collaborators on the expanded trials include Dong Fang Deng (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Matt Digman (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and animal physiologist Brian Shepherd, with ARS’ Dairy Forage Research Unit in Madison, WI.

Source: Aquaculture Magazine, Oct 19 2020

Opening Ceremony of Mediterranean and Asia Marine Alliance

Ocean is the asset of all human kinds in the world. Ocean resources bring enormous functions and benefits to human beings, and are the important assets for the living and development of generations of Taiwanese people.

Taiwan is surrounded by ocean. Being an Ocean Nation, ocean affairs has significant strategic implications. The recent confrontation of USA and China with intensive military exercises in the South China Sea has accelerated geopolitical wrestling to an unprecedented level, which further demonstrates the importance of ocean governance and national maritime rights. In April 2018, Taiwan government established“Ocean Affairs Council”, a ministry level agency; in November 2019, the “Ocean Basic Act” is passed and promulgated; and in June of this year (2020), the new edition of “National Ocean Policy White Paper” is issued and released. These consecutive actions strongly demonstrate the government’s emphasis on ocean policy and affairs, its proactive measures to encourage national people to focus on ocean related issues, and its determination to achieve the sustainable development of ocean.

Mediterranean is also an important geopolitical center in the world, and Israel is an important country in the Mediterranean area. Due to the complementary development of technology and economy, there are increasing interactions among Taiwan, Israel and Mediterranean area in recent years. Now it is the best time to connect resources across the regions through the dialogue of ocean.

Mediterranean and Asia Marine Alliance (abbreviated MAMA) is jointly established by Lian Tat Company (LTC) and Tunghai Industry Smart-Transformation Center (TISC), with deep cooperation from Israel strategic partners. This is the first platform initiated and established by private enterprise and organization in Taiwan to facilitate the cooperation and interaction of industry, government, and academic sectors in Taiwan and abroad. The Alliance is founded responding to government’s call and expectation for private sector to assist in promotion of marine related research and affairs, and to align with global ocean trends.

MAMA is composed of six areas of Ocean Policy, Smart Ocean, Ocean Biology, Ocean Resources, Ocean Industry and Ocean Culture. By chaining resources of each area, the Alliance is aimed to promoting ocean related research, providing policy advice, creating cooperation of industry and academia, fostering international exchange and cooperation, and upgrading Taiwan’s world visibility in participation of ocean affairs.

Time: September 23, 2020 (Wed) 2:00 pm
Place: B1 East Gate, Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel
Address: 201 Tun Hwa S. Road, Sec. 2, Taipei

“How Can Sustainable Aquaculture Be Achieved?”, a new study from the University of Santa Barbara analyzes the matter

As the population grows, and the global standard of living improves, humanity’s appetite for seafood is increasing. In 2020 seafood consumption reached an all-time high, with an average of 20kg consumed annually by every person on the planet.

Written by: editorial / Technology

Up to now most of this was caught in the world’s freshwaters and oceans. But things are changing, and today half of all seafood consumed comes from farmed sources, called aquaculture. The sector is expected to double by 2050 to supply the increasing global demand.

UC Santa Barbara Assistant Professor Halley E. Froehlich has contributed to an evaluation of the complex interactions between human, environmental, and animal health parameters of this budding industry, a view scientists call the One Health framework. The study, published in the journal Nature Food, brings together a diverse team of scientists, economists, sociologists and policy specialists led by the Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture Futures — a joint initiative between the University of Exeter and the United Kingdom’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science.

“Aquaculture is now being more widely recognized as an important part of our global food system,” said Froehlich, a faculty member in the departments of environmental studies and of ecology, evolution, and marine biology. “And it will continue to grow. So the question is, how do we plot that course in a more sustainable way?”

Aquaculture has played a major role in lifting millions of people out of poverty in many low and middle-income nations, but it faces a range of sustainability challenges. These include environmental degradation, overuse of antibiotics, release of disease agents and the requirement of wild-caught fish meal and fish oil to produce feed. Parts of the industry also engage in poor labor practices and gender inequality.

Negative societal impressions created by such examples mask aquaculture’s potentially significant benefits. Farming cold-blooded animals is very efficient from a nutrient perspective. Many species, such as oysters, don’t even require feeding. In addition, aquaculture can operate on a smaller footprint than many other forms of food production.

The new paper uses the One Health framework to lay out a set of metrics to include in national aquaculture strategies across the globe to improve sustainability as the industry expands. These include concepts like access to nutritious food and quality employment, the health of wild fish stocks and ecosystems and maintaining a small environmental footprint and resilience to climate change.

Communication, cooperation and coordination will be critical to the sustainable development of aquaculture as the sector grows. “If you don’t have that knowledge transfer — for instance, from scientists to policy-makers or farmers to scientists — these types of framework structures won’t go anywhere,” Froehlich said.

With that in mind, the authors collaborated widely on this report. “The paper results from extensive interaction between a wide range of academic experts in aquaculture, health, environmental and social sciences, economists, industry stakeholders and policy groups,” said senior co-author Charles Tyler from the University of Exeter.

The paper presents a strategy for developing aquiculture as well as the benchmarks to which we will measure its sustainability and success. “This is an important paper,” said lead author, Grant Stentiford of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, “acknowledging that aquaculture is set to deliver most of our seafood by 2050, but also that sustainability must be designed-in at every level.”

The One Health approach offers a tool for governments to consider when designing policies. “I hope it will become a blueprint for how government and industry interact on these issues in the future,” Stentiford added. “Most importantly, it considers aquaculture’s evolution from a subject studied by specialists to an important food sector — requiring now a much broader interaction with policy and society than arguably has occurred in the past.”

Some of these principles are already being applied in the European Union and in Norway, according to Froehlich, who has begun shifting her focus toward the industry in the United States, especially California. She is currently in the middle of a Sea Grant project collecting the most comprehensive dataset of marine aquaculture information from across all coastal states in the U.S. This includes practices, policies, and the hidden interactions with fisheries that influence how aquaculture is conducted in each state.

“Aquaculture is everywhere and nowhere at the same time,” Froehlich said. “People don’t realize how integrated it is into so many facets of marine ecology, conservation biology, and fisheries.”

Stentiford, G.D., Bateman, I.J., Hinchliffe, S.J. et al. Sustainable aquaculture through the One Health lens. Nat Food (2020).


Farmed salmon and tilapia are much more sustainable than previously thought

According to the Utrecht Master’s student Björn Kok, his new calculation method shows that 1 kilo of wild fish can yield up to 3 or 4 kilos of farmed fish.

Written by: Arnoud Cornelissen /

Fish farms were once considered to be one of the solutions for sustainably feeding the world. Until research showed that there was much more feed required in producing this fish than the amount of fish coming out of it. Yet according to the Utrecht Master’s student Björn Kok this has proven not to be the case. It is exactly the other way around he asserts. He calculated with his new measuring method that only 1 kilo of fish goes into production and 3 to 4 kilos of fish come out.

Farmed fish feed includes fishmeal as a source of protein and fish oil as a source of omega 3 fatty acids. Fish meal and fish oil are made from wild fish that are caught, often anchovies. How many kilos of wild fish are needed to produce one kilo of farmed fish is calculated using the so-called FIFO ratio: Fish In – Fish Out. Several methods are used to calculate the FIFO ratio. These methods often result in inaccurate and inconsistent ratios, according to a press release issued by Utrecht University. For example, the university refers to a broadcast of the Dutch TV show De Keuringsdienst van Waarde (a consumer watchdog program that focuses on food quality), in which it was stated that 4 kilos of wild fish are needed to breed 1 kilo of fish.

By-products count as free raw material

Kok’s new method, eFIFO, takes into account the shortcomings of other methods. “In such a way as to do justice to the socioeconomic motives behind catching fish for the production of fish meal and fish oil,” he states. ” It is a consistent and accurate way to calculate exactly how much wild fish you actually need to feed your farmed fish. “

In addition, eFIFO takes into account the use of by-products: fish heads, bones, fins. “Everything except the fillets. Approximately 30% of fish meal and fish oil is produced from by-products. Other methods see this as ‘free raw material’, and underestimate the FIFO ratio. Sustainability labels and certificates still use the old methods for their certification. “They also set their standards based on old FIFO methods, but if the underlying calculation is inaccurate, it is difficult to set the targets correctly.”.

Plant-based fish food

Plant-based sources of protein have also been used since 2000, partly due to the high price of fish meal. The price of fish meal and fish oil tripled between the 1990s and 2015. Soy, on the other hand, went from US$200 to 400 per metric tons in the same period. “A lot of progress has been made in recent years by switching from animal products to plant-based sources,” says Cook. But a good source of omega 3 as an alternative to fish oil is not yet widely available. When plant-based oil is used, the nutritional value of the farmed fish deteriorates.

The FIFO ratio for salmon, for example, has also gone down considerably since 1995. “With that lower FIFO ration due to plant-based feed and my more accurate method, you actually get a salmon FIFO ratio of less than 1:1. That’s a lot lower than the 4:1 ratio that’s so widely reported now.”

Salmon and tilapia most sustainable fish to eat

Salmon is not the only species of fish that Kok has studied. “If you look purely at kilos, carp and tilapia are the most sustainable fish to eat. Pangasius is also doing well. But all three of these fish have a completely different – as in lower – nutritional value than salmon.”

“One of the older methods,” Kok continues, “calculates fish meal and fish oil separately. For example, farmed salmon need a relatively large amount of fish oil compared to fish meal. In order to meet the demand for fish oil, more wild fish must be caught. But the fish meal that is produced at the same time as the fish oil is ignored in these calculations.

‘It looks like you need a lot more fish than is actually the case’

On the other hand, farmed carp do not need any fish oil at all. Then it’s a reverse situation all over again. When calculating the FIFO ratio of carp, fish oil is instead eliminated. “If you look at several species and applications of fish meal and fish oil all simultaneously, you actually count the required amount of wild fish twice in that calculation. Then it looks like you need a lot more fish than is actually the case”.

Another method, developed by Andrew Jackson in 2009, does not take into account the difference in yields between fish oil and fish meal from wild fish. “From 100 kilos of anchovies, you get about 5 kilos of fish oil and 22.5 kilos of fishmeal,” Kok points out.

‘Economic value shall not be taken into account’

“Jackson combines the use of fishmeal and fish oil and adds up the yields from wild fish, whereby the fish used is distributed evenly over the fishmeal and fish oil. However, this does not take into account the differences in yield and economic value between the fish meal and fish oil. Fish oil supplies are often the limiting factor in fish farming. Jackson’s approach glosses over the effect of the growing demand for fish oil. As a result, increasing pressure on the fishing industry to produce fish for fish oil is being presented inaccurately.”

Kok did this research as part of his thesis for his Master Sustainable Development – Energy and Materials at the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development at the Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University. He worked closely with researchers and experts from the University of Stirling (Scotland), University of Massachusetts Boston (USA), Kafrelsheikh University (Egypt), The University of Edinburgh (Scotland), IFFO, and Harper Adams University (England). During his PhD at the University of Stirling, Kok will continue his research into the environmental effects of fish farming and alternatives to fish feed.

The research was published here:


Marine food webs could be radically altered by heating of oceans

Temperature and carbon dioxide changes reduce the numbers of some species and promote the growth of algae, a University of Adelaide study found

  • By Graham Readfearn / The Guardian

Heating of the world’s oceans could radically reorganize marine food webs across the globe, causing the numbers of some species to collapse while promoting the growth of algae, new research has warned.

Healthy marine food webs that look like a pyramid, with smaller numbers of larger predatory species at the top and more abundant smaller organisms at the bottom, could become “bottom heavy.”

The types of species that could become less abundant in the oceans are the same ones targeted by commercial fishing and also are socially and culturally important to many communities around the globe.

In the research, published in the journal Science, researchers at the University of Adelaide recreated a marine habitat in a series of 1,800-liter tanks and then subjected some to temperature and carbon dioxide changes.

Ivan Nagelkerken, a professor in the university’s Environment Institute who led the research, said gazing into the tanks after six months when the study period ended had not been a pretty sight.

“It looked bad,” he said.

After being subjected to higher temperatures and higher carbon dioxide, the rocks were overgrown with turf algae and the sandy bottom had a lot more slimy algae that is toxic to some species, he said.

The tanks recreated a habitat off the coast of Adelaide in Gulf St Vincent that was about 6m deep.

Many of the species placed into the tanks — including kelp, crustaceans and the multitude of different bacteria on rocks, sand and in sediment — were gathered from the gulf. Native fish and crabs were also added.

Twelve tanks of ocean water — known as mesocosms — were split into four groups. Temperature and carbon dioxide levels were not adjusted in one group.

In another four tanks, the water temperature was raised over the course of six weeks until they were 2.8oC higher than today.

Another group of tanks had their carbon dioxide levels adjusted to the equivalent of 910 parts per million in the atmosphere, causing the water to become less alkaline.

The habitat in the fourth group of tanks was treated to both higher temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide.

Both the carbon dioxide conditions and the temperatures reflect conditions expected towards the end of this century in a world where little is done to curb fossil fuel burning.

Nagelkerken said the results of the experiment remained relevant even if the world did act to slow down the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

In 2011 a marine heatwave in Western Australia raised ocean temperatures more than 2oC for about 10 weeks. A study five years later found no recovery of the kelp — a vital component shaping the marine ecosystem there.

“That marine heatwave showed that even over just a few weeks, that caused the kelp to disappear,” Nagelkerken said.

He said the research showed that ocean heating “reshuffles species communities” with weedy plants and algae thriving, but the “abundance of other species, especially invertebrates, collapses.”

Nagelkerken said the changed pyramid that was fatter at the bottom and thinner in the middle, could eventually see larger predators also losing out.

In the study, the researchers write: “The top of food webs may eventually become depleted under future climate conditions or additional human disturbances.”

The small fish that were the predators in the tank resisted the impacts of warming, but the experiment showed the food they ate was becoming impoverished — an imbalance that could see the top predators struggling.

An ecological tipping point could be reached where “the top of the food web can no longer be supported,” the study says.

Nagelkerken said that in the real world, the impacts would vary depending on whether species could move to different areas. Some species would not be able to.

He said there was already evidence species were extending their ranges away from the equator as oceans got warmer and this, together with changes to the food webs, could also see traditional fishing grounds move, creating knock-on effects for communities that had been built around fishing.

“It’s not just climate change, but also our removal of predatory fish [through overfishing] and the addition of nutrients into the ocean. We have to consider all of that too,” he added.

Kirsty Nash, of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, who was not involved in the research, said studying the resilience of marine systems was challenging, and the researchers had struck a balance between what was practically possible while giving an insight into real-world impacts.

“Developing this type of understanding is really important if we want to then address questions around the broader consequences of climate change for society, for example, are fisheries likely to suffer as a result of climate change,” she said.

The experimental findings in the tanks were likely only showing an “intermediate state” that was a prelude to the development of “radically different” food webs, she said.

She said many places in the world had fish that societies consumed, but that the study suggested would be impacted.

“These local fish are popular eating fish, so this would have implications for what’s available, but it does depend on the area and how culturally and socially acceptable that would be,” she said.

Sophie Dove, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, who has run large long-term mesocosm experiments, said the study adds to mounting evidence that under the current trajectory of carbon dioxide emissions “services will be lost from our most valued ecosystems.”

She said she would have preferred that the experimental conditions had more closely mirrored the daily and seasonal changes in light, temperature and carbon dioxide.

However, the experiment demonstrated that organisms at the bottom of the food chain — such as “relatively inedible slimy algae” — did well under the changing conditions, but small plants that helped give rocky reefs their structure “do very badly under warming and acidification,” she said.



Planting in the Lab could help save critical seagrass

The UK’s Ocean Conservation Trust has planted the first seeds in its seagrass cultivation laboratory at the National Marine Aquarium.

The project is part of a major £2.5 million habitat restoration project funded by EU LIFE and led by Natural England.

The laboratory, which was unveiled for the first time in early June to coincide with World Oceans Day, has now been filled with the test batch of around 60,000 seeds, marking an important milestone in the three-year LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES habitat restoration project.

As part of the project, the Ocean Conservation Trust will be cultivating up to 360,000 plants a year in the new laboratory, to help restore up to eight hectares of lost seagrass meadows. A germination rate of around 25% is expected within the test batch over the next 50 days, resulting in around 15,000 Zostera Marina plants that will remain in the National Marine Aquarium’s public seagrass exhibit until next spring.

Once the cultivation process has proven successful, three further rounds of planting will take place, with volunteers set to be recruited to help with the planting of around 600,000 seeds in each. The plants will help to restore over eight hectares of lost seagrass meadows within Special Areas of Conservation in waters around the UK.

Mark Parry, Seagrass Ecologist and Project Manager at the Ocean Conservation Trust, said: “Seagrass meadows have become increasingly under threat in recent years due to a combination of factors including human activity and climate change, and so it is vital that we take steps now not just to protect those we still have, but to regenerate those that have already been lost. Seagrass meadows are one of the most ecologically important habitats in the UK, supporting our fisheries and helping to prevent coastal erosion, as well as absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, so looking after them is not just in the interests of the Ocean, but ours, too.”

By Jake Frith


Rotating microscope could provide a new window into secrets of microscopic life

Like spirits passing between worlds, billions of invisible beings rise to meet the starlight, then descend into darkness at sunrise. Microscopic plankton’s daily journey between the ocean’s depths and surface holds the key to understanding crucial planetary processes, but has remained largely a mystery until now. A new Stanford-developed rotating microscope, outlined in a study published Aug. 17 in Nature Methods, offers for the first time a way to track and measure these enigmatic microorganisms’ behaviors and molecular processes as they undertake on their daily vertical migrations.

“This is a completely new way of studying life in the ocean,” said study first author Deepak Krishnamurthy, a mechanical engineering PhD student at Stanford.

The innovation could provide a new window into the secret life of ocean organisms and ecosystems, said study senior author Manu Prakash, associate professor of bioengineering at Stanford. “It opens scientific possibilities we had only dreamed of until now.”

Oceanic mysteries

On Earth, half of all the conversion of carbon to organic compounds occurs in the ocean, with plankton doing most of that work. The tiny creatures’ outsized role in this process, known as carbon fixation, and other important planetary cycles has been hard to study in the ocean’s vertically stratified landscape which involves vast depth and time scales.

Conventional approaches to sampling plankton are focused on large populations of the microorganisms and have typically lacked the resolution to measure behaviors and processes of individual plankton over ecological scales. As a result, we know very little about microscale biological and molecular processes in the ocean, such as how plankton sense and regulate their depth or even how they can remain suspended in the water column despite having no appendages that aid in mobility.

“I could attach a tag to a whale and see where it goes, but as things get smaller and smaller it becomes extremely difficult to know and understand their native behavior,” Prakash said. “How do we get closer to the native behavior of a microscopic object, and give it the freedom that it deserves because the ocean is so large a space and extremely vertically oriented?”

To bridge the gap, Prakash and researchers in his lab developed a vertical tracking microscope based on what they call a “hydrodynamic treadmill.” The idea involves a simple yet elegant insight: a circular geometry provides an infinite water column ring that can be used to simulate ocean depths. Organisms injected into this fluid-filled circular chamber move about freely as the device tracks them and rotates to accommodate their motion. A camera feeds full-resolution color images of the plankton and other microscopic marine critters into a computer for closed-loop feedback control. The device can also recreate depth characteristics in the ocean, such as light intensity, creating what the researchers call a “virtual reality environment” for single cells.

The team has deployed the instrument for field testing at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, in Puerto Rico and also on a research vessel off the coast of Hawaii. The innovative microscope has already revealed various microorganisms’ behaviors previously unknown to science. For example, it exposed in minute detail how larvae of marine creatures from the Californian coast, such as the bat star, sea cucumber and Pacific sand dollar employ various methods to move through the sea, ranging from a steady hover to frequent changes in ciliary beat and swimming motion or blinks. This could allow scientists to better understand dispersal properties of these unique organisms in the open ocean. The device has also revealed the vertical swimming behaviors of single-celled organisms such as marine dinoflagellates, which could allow scientists to link these behaviors to ecological phenomena such as algal blooms.

In Puerto Rico, Krishnamurthy and Prakash were shocked to observe a diatom, a microorganism with no swimming appendages, repeatedly change its own density to drop and rise in the water — a puzzling behavior that still remains a mystery.

“It’s as if someone told you a stone could float and then sink and then float again,” Krishnamurthy said.

Bringing the ocean to the lab

Prakash credit the device’s success to the interdisciplinary nature of his lab’s team, which includes electrical, mechanical and optical engineers, as well as computer scientists, physicists, cell biologists, ecologists and biochemists. The team is working to extend the microscope’s capabilities further by virtually mapping all aspects of the physical parameters that an organism experiences as it dives into depths of the ocean, including environmental and chemical cues and hydrostatic pressure.

“To truly understand biological processes at play in the ocean at smallest length scales, we are excited to both bring a piece of the ocean to the lab, and simultaneously bring a little piece of the lab to the ocean,” said Prakash.

Prakash is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment; a member of Bio-X, the Maternal & Child Health Research Institute and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute; a faculty fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and an investigator at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

Study co-authors include Hongquan Li, a graduate student in electrical engineering; François Benoit du Rey, and Pierre Cambournac, former summer interns in the Prakash lab from École Polytechnique; Ethan Li, a graduate student in bioengineering and Adam Larson, a postdoctoral research fellow in bioengineering.

Portions of the technology described here are part of a pending U.S patent.

Funding provided by a Bio-X Bowes and SIGF fellowships, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the HHMI Faculty Fellows Program.


Life found in rocks beneath the ocean floor give scientists hope of finding life on Mars

(CNN)When scientists find microbial life thriving in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, it gives them hope that they may be able to find life on other planets.

Now, researchers have discovered billions of bacteria living in tiny cracks in volcanic rocks beneath the ocean floor, more than nine miles below the surface of the ocean and an additional 300 feet below the ocean floor, according to a new study published Thursday.
And they believe that similar tiny, clay-filled cracks in rocks on Mars or below its surface could be a similar hub for life.
The upper oceanic crust, known as the ocean floor, has been continuously created on Earth for about 3.8 billion years. Underwater volcanoes release lava at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit that solidifies into basaltic rock as the hot rock reacts to the cold ocean depths.
Hydrothermal vents along the ocean floor have been known to sustain bacteria and other life that convert minerals into energy, rather than light.
Meteorites reveal that Martian water came from different sources

Meteorites reveal that Martian water came from different sources
Previously, researchers have studied bacteria systems that were between 3.5 and 8 million years old. But 90% of the ocean floor is much older than that.
Yohey Suzuki, an associate professor in the University of Tokyo’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, and his colleagues investigated samples of basaltic lava found 328 feet below the ocean floor between Tahiti and New Zealand that ranged from 33 to 104 million years old.
There, they found a wealth of single-celled microbial life living in tiny cracks among the rock, which were rich with iron and clay. To be exact, they estimate that 10 billion bacterial cells live per cubic centimeter in these communities. (Bacteria known to live in mud along the seafloor pales in comparison, at 100 cells per cubic centimeter.)
Bacteria live densely packed into tunnels of clay minerals found in this sample of solid rock.

The researchers believe the iron content in the clay found deep below the ocean floor supports the growth of such large bacterial communities. The study published in the journal Communications Biology.
“I thought it was a dream, seeing such rich microbial life in rocks,” Suzuki said, “I am now almost over-expecting that I can find life on Mars. If not, it must be that life relies on some other process that Mars does not have, like plate tectonics.”

From the ocean floor to Mars

The cracks form when the lava cools, creating narrow spaces less than one millimeter across. Millions of years of residue and buildup fill them with mineral-infused clay. Then, bacteria find a nice home in them and settle in.
“These cracks are a very friendly place for life. Clay minerals are like a magic material on Earth; if you can find clay minerals, you can almost always find microbes living in them,” Suzuki said.
The bacteria Suzuki and his colleagues found is similar to how our cells make energy, a process that relies on organic nutrients in oxygen. Instead of the resources humans get from Earth’s surface, they get what they need from the clay minerals.
The Curiosity rover found organic molecules on Mars. This is why they're exciting
Clay is something that NASA’s Curiosity rover has explored quite a bit on Mars.
Since Curiosity landed in 2012, it’s been exploring Gale Crater, a vast and dry ancient lake bed with a 16,404-foot mountain — Mount Sharp — at its center.
Streams and lakes likely filled Gale Crater billions of years ago, which is why NASA landed the rover there in 2012. Scientists want to know if ancient Mars once supported microbial life.
Mars, like Earth, also has a basaltic crust that formed four billion years ago. And in recent years, subsurface water and methane have been detected on the Red Planet.
Curiosity has observed and drilled samples of rocks rich in clay from the lake bed.
The clay minerals present in those rocks on the Martian surface could be similar to those in the ocean rock cracks.
“Minerals are like a fingerprint for what conditions were present when the clay formed. Neutral to slightly alkaline levels, low temperature, moderate salinity, iron-rich environment, basalt rock — all of these conditions are shared between the deep ocean and the surface of Mars,” said Suzuki.
Curiosity rover detects highest levels of methane on Mars

His team is collaborating with researchers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to come up with a plan for examining and analyzing rock samples that will one day be returned from Mars.
A 3D X-ray could help them peek inside the samples and search for cracks filled with minerals — and maybe find evidence of life.
“This discovery of life where no one expected it in solid rock below the seafloor may be changing the game for the search for life in space,” said Suzuki.

Studying the ocean floor

But the quest for bacteria deep beneath the ocean floor is a tricky one.
“Honestly, it was a very unexpected discovery. I was very lucky, because I almost gave up,” said Suzuki.
Could life have existed on a warm, wet Mars? Ancient Earth crater may explain how

The samples were collected in 2010 during the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international marine research program, which took researchers from Tahiti to New Zealand. It stopped at three locations along the way, using a 9.7-mile-long metal tube to reach the ocean floor and then drill 410 feet below it. Core samples were retrieved, including mud, sediment and solid rock.
The samples were taken far from hydrothermal vents to prevent contamination, in case the bacteria was carried from one of them to the rocks, and the rocks were sterilized when they were brought up.
Suzuki thinly sliced the rock to find the bacteria.

Chipping away and grinding the rock didn’t yield any results.
Suzuki, inspired by the thin slices of tissue samples that pathologists use to diagnose diseases, coated the rocks in epoxy to maintain the rock shape, then sliced thin layers. He washed the thin pieces with dye that would stain any DNA present.
Beneath his microscope, he saw green bacterial cells, surrounded by orange clay and black rock. Suzuki was able to conduct whole genome DNA analysis and identify what was living inside the cracks.
He found evidence of life.

Research institute breeds new colors in captive shrimps

Photo courtesy of the Fisheries Research Institute

Taipei, April 17 (CNA) Taiwan has succeeded in breeding two new color variants in captive harlequin shrimps, a species of saltwater crustacean found in coral reefs in the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans, the Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) said Friday.

Wild harlequin shrimps that live in waters in the East Pacific typically have deep pinkish-purple spots with yellow edges, while those that live in the Indian Ocean and the West Pacific tend to be more brownish with a blue edge.

Through gene recombination and hybridization, people will now have the option of raising this type of pet shrimp in shades of indigo blue and cobalt blue in fish tanks, the institute said.

The aquarium fish market is currently the third largest pet market after dogs and cats in Taiwan, it said, indicating that the market for aquarium shrimp has increased significantly in recent years.

According to the FRI, the output value of ornamental shrimp in Taiwan exceeds NT$200 million (US$6.64 million) annually.

Based on statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the institute said the global aquarium fish market in 2019 was worth approximately US$15 billion to US$20 billion.

(By Wu Hsin-yun and Ko Lin)

Seaweed takes scientists on trip ‘through time’ in the waters of Monterey Bay

Study uses data, locked in century old pressed algae, to reveal the mysteries of Monterey Bay’s marine life

Pressed algae - Monterey Bay Aquarium.png

Pressed algae – Monterey Bay Aquarium

New research led by Monterey Bay Aquarium is helping to unlock the natural history of one of the most studied places on the planet. By tapping into a collection of dried, pressed seaweed — that dates back more than 140 years — researchers with the Aquarium’s Ocean Memory Lab can now offer a window back in time to understand what the bay was like before the impacts of modern human activity.

Read the paper, “Herbaria macroalgae as a proxy for historical upwelling trends in Central California,” at the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Deep marine canyons, a myriad migratory species and an abundant source of nutrients supplied by natural upwelling have attracted the massive concentration of marine science currently focused on Monterey Bay. Despite this proliferation of study and observation here, scientists had always been limited in their attempts to establish baselines of ecosystem health by the extent of available data, which in Monterey Bay extends back to 1946 when the patterns of its natural upwelling started being recorded.

“This part of California’s Central coast is renowned for the sheer amount of marine life it can sustain. Even through the pressures of the past century, Monterey Bay is still teeming with birds, whales, fishes and seaweeds,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium Chief Scientist Kyle Van Houtan. “These plants and animals were around long before scientists, so we thought if we could find historical samples we might learn something by extracting the information stored in their tissues.”

Using that approach, the Ocean Memory Lab generates new information about the ocean’s past by combing through scientific collections, museums, and other historical archives. These repositories contain specimens of marine life that have data on ocean conditions locked within their fronds, feathers, shells and other tissues. Aquarium scientists use a variety of chemical analyses to unlock the data held within sample tissues to provide more accurate baselines, and help inform decisions intended to maintain or restore ocean health.

“We were able to add nearly seven decades of data, extracted from seaweed samples more than a century old, to better understand historical changes in Monterey Bay,” said Emily Miller, the lead author of the study for the Aquarium and now a researcher at partner institution, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. “This information offers us a new perspective on one of the features that makes Monterey Bay home to such diversity, its upwelling cycles. Documenting these patterns helps us to understand shifts in the foundation of the food web, and to make more informed conservation decisions in the future.”

Working with colleagues from Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station and the University of Hawaii, Aquarium researchers based the study on data from the chemical analysis of pressed seaweed samples sourced from herbarium collections from several institutions, dating back to 1878, as well as freshly collected specimens. The samples analyzed came from six species of seaweed, also called macroalgae, that included giant kelp, rockweed, sea lettuce, and grape tongue.

“Izzy Abbott, who was professor of biology at Hopkins, helped to curate and build our collection of algae for over 25 years,” said Stephen Palumbi, a professor of marine biology at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. “She and the algae biologists that came before her knew that preserving specimens was vital. But it took this new approach from Monterey Bay Aquarium to dig into the very atoms of the algae and ask the kelp forest questions about the history of the oceans.”

Researchers calibrated the accuracy of their chemical analysis by comparing nitrogen stable isotopes from a red algae, Gelidium, with the Bakun upwelling index, a record of the natural Monterey Bay phenomenon going back to 1946. They found a high correlation between the index and data derived from the algae samples from 1946-2018, which demonstrated the nitrogen isotopes in the algae could be used to determine the upwelling pattern. Researchers then used older algae specimens to extend the Bakun upwelling index back to 1878, 70 years before it began being monitored.

One of the research’s novel findings, drawn from the additional seven decades of information offered within the seaweed samples, shed more light into ocean conditions in Monterey Bay during the sardine fishery’s famous boom and bust in the 1940s and 1950s. Researchers documented poor upwelling conditions in Monterey Bay in the years immediately prior to the crash. This discovery adds a new dimension to an understanding of what role ecosystem changes may have played in the shift from a sardine-dominated system to one that is anchovy-dominated. It could also further inform how fishery management practices are implemented to respond to environmental conditions, something known as ecosystem-based management.