Colours in the sea and in the sky

Our Centre for Trace Metal and Experimental Biogeochemistry collaborates with Stellenbosch University’s biotechnologists to better understand the relationship between the marine microbial community composition and the biogeochemical cycling. One of our current priorities is to find out how the microbial communities adapt to the very pronounced changes in macro- (e.g., N, P) and trace (e.g., iron, cobalt, zinc) nutrient availabilities in the Southern Ocean. Johan Viljoen, one of our Master students is currently on board R/V Agulhas II to sample for determination of the community composition via pigment analysis, hence, in simplified terms, he will look at the colour of the particles suspended in the water.

Meanwhile, Dr Ethel Phiri, a Stellenbosch University’s biotechnologist, investigates the community composition via genomic analysis. For this purpose Dr Ethel Phiri visited the “Norges teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet – NTNU” (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) in Trondheim, Norway to process metagenomics samples that were collected during previous cruises. During her visit, Ethel worked together with Norwegian PhD student Alice Mühlroth, who joined our Winter 2015 cruise on board R/V Agulhas II, on optimizing the amplifying the DNA fragments by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) so that we could perform Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) for the identification of the phytoplankton species.

The visit was not all work. Ethel also experienced walking in the forest to look for mushrooms, something that is a favourite pastime for Norwegians. Unfortunately, there were none as it had not rained for a while! Nonetheless, Ethel was very fortunate to see the Aurora borealis (Northern Lights) – a phenomenon that many have travelled for, but never got to see. She saw the Northern Lights one night before it started raining – rain which lasted for a week-and-a-half, until she left. It’s a pity that there was a lot of work to be done during the rainy days, so she couldn’t go back to the forest for mushroom picking.

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