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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Enhancing research capacity through a biotechnology-driven investigation of novel Gram-negative bacteria from Indonesian sponges

PI: Ocky Radjasa (, Diponegoro University
U.S. Partner: Phillip Crews, University of California, Santa Cruz
Project dates: December 2016 - November 2019

Project Overview:

5-215 Field Training
The team pauses for a group photo during a field expedition to collect samples in May 2017 (photo courtesy of Dr. Radjasa).
This team’s hypothesis is that an experimental design based on so-called “integrative chemical biology” will provide new insights to better describe life processes in Oceana. This project will leverage an existing Indonesian-U.S. collaboration to make advances in marine microorganism biology, stimulate chemistry discoveries, and engage in outreach to STEM students. The focus will be on using biodiverse Indonesian sponges as a source of new halotolerant Gram-negative bacteria. The project will be based at Diponegoro University (UNDIP, Indonesia) and will be led by Prof. Radjasa, working in cooperation with the natural products lab team of Prof. Crews and leveraging his National Institutes of Health-sponsored project “Merging Marine-Derived Natural Products With Experimental Therapeutics.” The goals are (1) to leverage the aims and expertise of the Crews group to forge a marine sponge-inspired initiative with the Radjasa group at UNDIP; (2) to isolate, characterize, and culture at least 30 strains of Gram-negative bacteria from Indonesian marine sponges; (3) to discover at least 10 novel secondary metabolite scaffolds through the culturing of chemically prolific microorganism strains; (4) to establish a productive research partnership between scientists at UNDIP and UCSC through exchange visits; and (5) to play a part in USAID/Indonesia higher education objectives by providing undergraduate training for at least five UNDIP students using STEM programs in place at UCSC, training on marine biotechnology for four undergraduate students, and curriculum development.

The exploitation of symbiotic bacteria as a source for novel secondary metabolites is considered to be in its infancy; however, the discovery rate of novel active metabolites from marine Gram-negative bacteria could surpass that of their terrestrial counterparts. Sponges represent an unusual niche for novel microbes, as they host hundreds of different bacterial groups and contain diverse symbionts. However, the marine environments in which they are found still remain largely unexplored, understudied, and underexploited. The urgent need for novel substances for the treatment of severe human diseases combined with the recognition that marine organisms provide a rich potential source of such substances support the intensive exploration of new substances from marine organisms. This project will use organisms and methods to overcome existing bottlenecks by using halotolerant Gram-negative bacteria, which can be grown in large scale in the laboratory and which are potent producers of bioactive compounds.

Summary of Recent Activities

Dr. Radjasa sent one of his research assistants on the project to Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta to participate in biosafety and biosecurity training January 28-31, 2019. Another research assistant attended a training course on scientific publications in internationally reputable journals that took place at the Directorate of Research, Bandung Institute of Technology, Bandung, West Java (February 28 - March 1, 2019). Finally, the project provided a travel grant for a doctoral student to collect nudibranch samples in the North Bali Sea in collaboration with Universitas Pendidikan Ganesha (Undiksha) and a research consortium on nudibranchs involving partners from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the Netherlands. The team recently published some of their project results in a Scopus-indexed journal, Biodiversitas. The article, which is entitled "Exploration culturable bacterial symbionts of sponges from Ternate Islands, Indonesia," is accessible at PEER funds also supported three doctoral students to attend the International Conference on Biology and Applied Science at Malang, East Java, Indonesia to present their work.

In the spring and summer of 2019, the PI and his team plan a field expedition to Raja Ampat, Papua, Eastern Indonesia. Two research assistants will make a research visit to the U.S. partner’s lab at UCSC, and another will spend three months at the Center for Genetics and Molecular Biotechnology at ITB in Bandung receiving training on bioinformatics and molecular biology. Preparations are under way for a patent application as well.

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