Talk 1: Exploring the roles of microbial communities in the marine environment by Assoc. Prof. Scott Rice, The Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, The School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University
Bio: Assoc Prof Rice is the Deputy Research Director for the Microbial Biofilms cluster of The Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering, at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He has studied adaptive responses of bacteria for more than 20 years, including stress-survival mechanisms, cell-cell signaling and biofilm development. The primary goal of his research is to define the genetic mechanisms that bacteria use to regulate these processes whereby this information can also be used to identify new targets to exploit for the control of bacteria. For example, we have discovered that bacteria produce and respond to the gaseous molecule, nitric oxide. Small amounts of nitric oxide can induce bacteria to leave the biofilm, called dispersal. Therefore, strategies are being developed to deliver nitric oxide to bacterial biofilms to control infections caused by this form of bacteria. More recently, his work has focused on studying complex communities of microbes, where hundreds of different bacterial species may be present in the same space. These studies are aimed at understanding the mechanisms of cooperation and competition for such communities and have implications for the control of biofilms in regard to engineered systems, e.g. microbially influenced corrosion where bacteria contribute to the dedragation of pipelines and storage systems. He has published over 150 articles on biofilms, cell-cell signaling and biofilm control strategies.
Synopsis: Microorganisms represent the unseen majority in most habitats and yet are essential for the continued functioning of the planet. They play central roles in all biogeochemical cycles, e.g. nitrogen capture and turnover. In addition, they form close interactions with higher organisms in their environment. The advent of high throughput metagenomics and other technologies enable us to investigate the roles of microoganisms with unprecedented resolution. Using these approaches, we are beginning to better define and detail the activities and functions of marine microorganisms to understand how their roles in maintaining a healthy, functional ecosystem.
Talk 2: Attempting to understand the impact of biota-sediment interaction in a data-sparse, rapidly changing urban marine environment by Dr. Ooi Seng Keat, Tropical Marine Science Institute, National University of Singapore
Talk 3: Understanding trace metal biogeochemistry in Singapore and the region with studies of metal concentrations, sources and bioavailability by Dr. Gonzalo Carrasco, Centre for Environmental Sensing and Modelling, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, Singapore
Bio: Dr Carrasco, a PhD in Chemical Oceanography and a trace metal chemist, is a postdoctoral researcher at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology since 2014. He is currently studying the concentrations, sources (via a study of their isotopic ratios) and bioavailability (via a quantification of their chemical species) of trace metals (Zn, Cd, Pb, Cu) in the regional marine environment. He works in rivers, coastal seawater and open ocean water around Singapore and from the Malacca Straits to the South China Sea to coastal Borneo. He has previously done studies on trace metals in coastal environments near urban areas in the Arabian Gulf, Brazil and the US East Coast as a postdoctoral researcher in MIT (2010-2014) and in open-ocean and coastal environments in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific and the Chesapeake Bay as a MS and PhD student in Old Dominion University (2007 and 2010). Results from his research, by looking at the sources of metals and organic matter in different environments, reveal the mechanisms and controls of the chemical speciation of trace metals of biological importance in different spatio-temporal scales and provide information about the connection between the chemical and the biological realms in the marine environment.
Synopsis: Trace metals can have nutritious or toxic roles for phytoplankton and marine life depending on the metal, its concentration and the bioavailability of its chemical species. Using a combination of ICP-MS and electrochemistry methods, we tracked the anthropogenic and natural sources of trace metals (Zn, Cd, Cu, Pb) in Singapore coastal waters and the surrounding region. Here, we present results that show spatio-temporal variations in concentrations and bioavailability of metals in seawater around Singapore (Singapore and Johor Straits) that were driven by natural and a variety of anthropogenic sources, specifically industrial (e.g. ship building industry) and agriculture/aquaculture sources. We compare these to results from our study transects along Malacca Straits, South China Sea and Malaysian Borneo, where natural riverine organic matter is the dominant control of metal bioavailability, as part of a larger river-to-ocean transport mechanism. Further studies and applications of our results will also be shared, including the use of coral proxies for reconstructing metal bioavailability and the characterization of responses of mangroves to metal loading.
Talk 4: Swarming technology for pervasive monitoring of the marine environment by Assoc. Prof. Roland Bouffanais, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)
Bio: Dr. Roland Bouffanais is an Assistant Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). He received his Ph.D. from EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland) in computational science for which he received the prestigious IBM Research Prize in Computational Sciences (2008) and the ERCOFTAC Da Vinci Award Silver Medal (2007). He has been a postdoctoral fellow and associate at MIT and still is a research associate with the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT.
Bouffanais’ research group–the Applied Complexity Group–focuses on fundamental and applied interdisciplinary problems rooted in the field of complexity science. Bouffanais leads a number of active projects at SUTD related to complex networks and self-organizing systems, including swarming systems. He has recently authored a monograph titled “Design and Control of Swarm Dynamics”, published by Springer in their Complexity Series in 2016.
Synopsis: Swarm Robotics offers a promising approach to the pervasive monitoring of marine environments. Traditional monitoring techniques rely on either a single autonomous robot—autonomous surface vehicle—or a fixed network of sensors. Neither existing technology is suitable or efficacious for the robust monitoring and tracking of dynamic environmental features at the surface of aqueous environments. There is a pressing need for small, low-cost and rapidly deployable autonomous buoys. One powerful source of inspiration comes from the process of self-organization and swarming, observed throughout the natural world. We present the design, construction and testing of the largest swarm of buoys ever built. To date, we have deployed and tested a system of up to 50 units that are dynamically deployed over large surface areas of an uncontrolled open-water environment without any supporting infrastructure.
Talk 5: Marine Natural Products Research in Singapore: Innovative Technologies for Drug Discovery from Marine Microbes by Dr. Tan Lik Tong, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Bio: Dr. Tan Lik Tong conducts research and teaches at the Natural Sciences and Science Education Academic Group at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Nanyang Technological University. He obtained his PhD in Medicinal and Natural Products Chemistry at the College of Pharmacy, Oregon State University. His PhD dissertation was on the biomedical potential of filamentous marine cyanobacteria, conducted at the laboratory of Professor William Gerwick. He subsequently undertook Post-Doctoral research in marine microbial natural products chemistry at the laboratory of William Fenical, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California, San Diego. His current research interests at NIE involves the use of metabolomics and genomic approaches to discover novel anti-infectives and anti-cancer agents from marine cyanobacteria as well as symbiotic microbes associated with marine invertebrates.
Synopsis: Marine microorganisms, particularly filamentous cyanobacteria and actinomycetes, are potential sources of novel secondary metabolites with therapeutic usage. Genome sequencing of these marine microbes has revealed their capacity to produce many more unique secondary metabolites than have been characterized. In addition, recent innovative metabolomics techniques have shown to be promising tools in the uncovering of chemical diversity as well as dereplication of natural products extracts. The presentation will illustrate the use of integrated mass spectrometric-based molecular networking approach and genomic method in the selection of marine bacterial strains for the discovery of novel bioactive compounds.
Talk 6: Chasing crabs – 1978 to 2017 – 40 years and ending by Prof. Peter Ng, Department of Biological Sciences, Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, National University of Singapore
Bio: Professor Peter Ng Kee Lin is a world-renowned expert in aquatic biodiversity, particularly in the systematics and diversity of decapod crustacean (crabs, lobsters, prawns). His scientific contributions have firmly established NUS and Singapore as a significant regional and international centre for carcinology (study of crustaceans). His standing in the regional and international scientific research community and close links to an extensive network of regional/international colleagues and collaborators have also led to his being a key driver of/participant in various high profile multi-national collaborations and initiatives including: 1) Expedition Anambas (2002), a scientifically highly fruitful biological exploration of the Indonesian islands of Anambas and Natuna involving scientists and managers from almost all the South China Sea (SCS) states, which stemmed from the Workshop on Managing Potential Conflicts in the South China Sea; 2) various multinational research expeditions to megadiverse marine biodiversity hotspots such as the Philippines; and 3) various ASEAN and international workshops. A direct result of Prof Ng’s involvement is that Singapore is always well represented in such regional and international scientific enterprises, and the nation’s international scientific reputation is enhanced.