Contact Us  |  Search  
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research
Development, Security, and Cooperation
Policy and Global Affairs
Home About Us For Applicants For Grant Recipients Funded Projects Email Updates
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

As part of the capacity building activities under this PEER project, two undergraduate students from Universitas Kristen Artha Wacana in Kupang, Eastern Indonesia, visited Dr. Radjasa’s lab for an internship program October 19, 2017, through January 19, 2018. In addition, two visiting scientists from Pattimura University in Ambon, Eastern Indonesia, spent December 2017 and January 2018 working in the lab. Two new research assistants have been recruited to join the PEER team, and in the last quarter of 2017 the PI also acquired some new equipment thanks to PEER funds, including a binocular microscope, a vortex mixer, a hot plate and stirrer, and a micropipette. He and his group are currently working with their U.S. partners at the University of California, Santa Cruz to prepare a joint publication on their research conducted in 2017. In addition, the results of the project have been incorporated into teaching materials for the courses on marine biotechnology and marine natural products in the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Sciences, Diponegoro University. On the outreach side, Dr. Radjasa presented his work at two conferences: the Second International Conference on Translational Medicine and Health Sciences, Semarang (invited speaker, October 28-29, 2017) and the Second International Conference on Science, Makassar (keynote speaker, November 2-3, 2017).

During the first half of 2018, the PI expects to conduct another joint expedition with his U.S. counterparts from UCSC, this time focusing on Ternate, Central Indonesia. The visitors will also present another training workshop for researchers and students at Diponegoro University. More equipment will be purchased and additional student exchanges and internships will be carried out.

Back to PEER Cycle 5 Grant Recipients