Environmental DNA for evaluation of biological pollution carried by marine litter

Master Thesis subject (30 ECTS)
Biological pollution is one of the most dangerous threats to marine ecosystems today. Non-indigenous organisms are carried by maritime traffic, escape from aquaculture, are disseminated by currents as hitch-hikers in litter and debris. They are not always recognizable de visu, especially when they are propagated as eggs, larvae, cysts and other immature forms. However, early detection before they settle in new environments is essential for preventing further expansions and full biological invasions. In this project the student will collect different types of marine litter (or debris) arrived to the North Spanish coast. He/she will classify the litter, identifying whenever possible its origin from external signals (labels, trademarks, recognizable shapes etc). Samples of the eukaryote biota attached to the materials will be taken, visually identified using taxonomic guides to the lowest level possible, and stored in ethanol for further confirmation from DNA Barcoding. In addition, the biofilm and water on the surface of the litter will be sampled for DNA extraction and NGS analysis in order to identify the species occurring therein. Comparison between visual/Barcoding and NGS results will serve to evaluate the utility of high throughput molecular technology for detection potential biopollutants from marine debris. On the other hand the results obtained from beaches located in regions influenced by different currents (i.e. west and east of Cape Peñas) will be compared for a more global risk analysis, and identification of potential gates of long-distance introductions. Six beaches will be considered as study sites, and at least twenty litter objects will be analyzed per beach. Two objects per beach will be selected for NGS analysis. The student will learn about sampling, taxonomic identification, DNA Barcoding, Next Generation Sequencing and data analysis and interpretation (eukaryote level). She/he will find a friendly environment in the laboratory, where she/he will be guided in the day-by-day work by a postdoc or PhD student under the supervision of the senior scientists. The project is co-funded by EMBC+ and the Spanish National project CGL2013-42415-R ALERTOOLS. See a related work by the team at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25627196
Experience in molecular genetics at Bachelor and Masters level. At least acquaintance with DNA extraction and PCR procedure, as well as basic knowledge of DNA databases and BLAST.
Number of students: 
academic year: 
Contact person email: 
contact person first name: 
Eva Garcia-Vazquez
Other people involved: 
Dr Alba Ardura, Dr Jose L. Martinez
Reference Number: RP-36012