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Exploring the Microbiome of the Atlantic Ocean: a look-back on UFSC's contributions

In celebration of World Microbiome Day, we are showcasing the activities of AtlantECO partner the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and their contribution to a better understanding of the Microbiome in the Atlantic Ocean.

Over the last couple of years UFSC have been busy disseminating AtlantECO and its research pillars through "Port Calls" along the Brazilian coast during the sampling expeditions, during these they also acquired new data and samples of the planktonic community onboard the Veleiro ECO. They have also been training Brazilian researchers to deploy the sampling and processing protocols developed in AtlantECO. Let’s look at some of these activities in more details.

Dissemination and outreach

AtlantECO´s Port Calls are outreach events organized in the different stop over locations of our sampling expeditions, their aim is to disseminate, share and exchange scientific and popular knowledge on the project activities and the local context. For instance, during one of our Flagship expeditions, the team co-organised events in cities along the Brazilian coast, including Belém (RN), Rio de Janeiro (RJ), Paranaguá (PR) and Itajaí (SC). These events, which last approximately 5 days, were visited by 40 school groups from public and private schools, with approximately 1,200 students attending and more than 2,000 visitors. In addition, 10 scientific exchanges, round tables and training courses were held. Each event takes huge efforts, and the team has been able to count on the support of 80 volunteers and partners from universities in the different cities served.

In October 2022, the team participated in the 19th SEPEX of UFSC. They developed the All-Atlantic Exhibition stand under the theme “The South Atlantic Ocean” which brought together many sister projects at UFSC. The aim was to disseminate in an integrated manner five cutting-edge projects carried out in the South Atlantic, which represent the great effort of the international scientific community to study the least known ocean on the planet.

UFSC has been very active in supporting and promoting the participation of women at all levels in the project, encouraging their long-term contribution in the field of Marine Sciences.

Sampling and capacity building

Between August 2021 and September 2022, Brazilian scientists participated in research activities aboard Tara schooner for Mission Microbiomes, one of the project’s flagships expeditions, along the Brazilian coast and in international waters. This was fundamental for training the team in using the sampling and analysis protocols developed in the AtlantECO project. The UFSC team then trained students in marine science students so that they could deploy these protocols aboard other flagship vessels, ensuring that the content and strategy were adapted to the local context and resources.

After that, the UFSC team started the AtlantECO flagship expedition aboard Veleiro ECO with the first leg focusing on understanding the impact of the Itajaí-Açu River on the adjacent coastal zone in terms of microbiome, microplastics and biogeochemical variables. This leg was the first of a series planned on board of Veleiro ECO along the Brazilian coast. During the nine days on board, the team worked on five sampling stations for approximately 10 hours a day. At each station, around 40 sampling protocols were carried out with an average of 85 samples collected per day and 440 samples in total that will be used for genetic, taxonomic, and biogeochemical analysis. The crew onboard was composed mostly of female researchers from postgraduate courses in Ecology and Oceanography at UFSC.

Some of the samples collected on the Itajaí River are currently being analysed, including imaging analysis caried out using the PlanktoScope, an automated optical instrument which captures images of plankton samples. The UFSC team was trained to do this by Dr. Gleice Santos Souza, an AtlantECO ESR from the University of San Paulo (USP).

In addition to their involvement in flagship expeditions, the UFSC team participated in piloting the All-Atlantic Ocean Microbiomes Sampling (AAOMS) initiative with other AtlantECO Brazilian partners: UFSCar (general coordination with UFSC), UFPA, UFRA, UFC, UFRN, UFRPE, UFPE, UFSB, IEAPM, USP, UNIFESP and FURG. All teams from these institutions went in the field, collected and processed the samples following the same international protocol. Originally implemented as the Ocean Sampling Day since 2014 in all oceans, this was the first time that researchers from Brazil have joined the initiative. This 2022 piloting campaign helps ensure that the team is ready for future AAOMS days.

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