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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 undergradute 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

The second half of 2017 was a busy time for Dr. Radjasa and his team. Following up on a successful joint expedition with UCSC colleagues in late May 2017 to collect sponge samples off the Karimunjawa Islands, the researchers worked in their lab at UNDIP to isolate Gram-negative bacterial symbionts from the sponges gathered and screen them for biological activity against multi-drug resistant bacteria samples from Indonesian hospitals. From August 18 through September 1, researcher Dr. Agus Trianto and students Prastyo Abi Widyananto, Septhy Kusuma Radjasa, Rianti Putri Pangastuti, and Rachmat Afriyanto visited UCSC for intensive hands-on training in the lab of U.S. partner Dr. Phillip Crews. During their stay, they learned new skills while initiating chemical examinations of the samples isolated, using bioanalytical and bioassay analysis. Meanwhile, the PI and other team members presented the group’s work at several conferences during the summer and fall. These included the International Seminar on Marine and Fishery Research (Yogyakarta, Indonesia, July 24, 2017), the International Conference on Marine Science and Fisheries Technology (Tual, Indonesia, August 22, 2017), the International Conference on Marine Science (Bogor, Indonesia, September 6, 2017), and the International Conference on Translational Medicine and Health Sciences (Semarang, Indonesia, October 27, 2017).

The PI reports that as a result of their support from PEER during this first year of their project, he and his team have gained new expertise relevant to the search for bioactive molecules from Gram-negative bacterial symbionts of sponges. The facilities of his Tropical Marine Biotechnology Laboratory have been upgraded through the purchase of several new pieces of equipment, which are now widely used by students from not only the Department of Marine Science but also other departments at UNDIP and even other universities. Plans for the coming year include a field trip to sample sponges off Ternate, Central Indonesia; continued work in the laboratory at UNDIP to isolate Gram-negative bacterial symbionts and screen their biological activity; and organization of relevant workshops. Two new master’s students are being recruited to join the project, and the PI will continue to offer internships for students and lecturers from universities in Eastern Indonesia.

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