Current issues in marine microbiology
Siena, 2-5 August 1997
The newly reorganized CIESM Committee on Marine Microbiology, Biochemistry
and Biotechnology held an inaugural workshop on Current Issues in Marine
Microbiology in the Certosa di Pontignano near Siena, Italy, from August
2-5, 1997. About 20 scientists from France, Austria, Italy, Spain, the
Netherlands, Croatia, Israel, Algeria, Greece, Norway and the USA
in the Workshop. Topics under discussion included:
1. Microbial interactions in marine environments;
2. Basic aspects of microbial ecology;
3. Symbiotic and parasite-predator relationships;
4. Marine biotechnology;
5. New molecular and microscopic techniques;
7. Microbes in shallow and deep-sea vents;
8. Aspects of marine biotechnology.
These topics represented the major research areas under investigation
in the various laboratories. Not unexpectedly, there was a significant
gap between the scientific levels of the talks from "Western" laboratories and those coming from less developed countries. However, it
is noteworthy that most of the participants from these countries were well
trained and competent to carry out modern research programs. The problem
lay in inadequate financing, lack of modern equipment and research facilities
and geographical isolation. It was clear that participation in international
activities such as the Siena workshop represented a major exposure and
an important learning experience.
2. PRIORITY RESEARCH TOPICS
A number of areas were identified as potential research areas which
could be expanded within the framework of international cooperative
These topics include:
1. Strategies for studying microbial diversity in marine environments
in-situ without the need for prior enrichments which distort theoverall picture since only about 5-10% of microbial species are
2. Biochemical and chemical strategies to exploit marine diversity for
isolation of natural products;
3. More in-depth characterization of newly isolated strains with novel
4. Developing modeling and imaging techniques for tracking populations
of unique organisms;
5. Approaches to basic questions of population dynamics and the role
of plasmids in gene transfer and population stability;
6. Questions related to bioaugmentation (introduction of organisms
in foreign environments);
7. Potential role of microbes in major events such as the mucilage
event off the coast of Italy;
8. Novel microbial processes such as anaerobic metabolism, functioning
at high pressure, marine extremophiles;
9. Symbiosis and pathogenicity.
In addition to these topics it was felt that research in the Mediterranean
offered special opportunities for investigation such as using the
oligotrophic gradient in the Mediterranean to test hypotheses related to nutrient limitation of bacterial production. Another area which remains to be investigated is related to specific strain fluctuations in the Mediterranean where seasonal variations in temperature may affect biodiversity. The significance of such research may shed light on the spread of specific populations of marine microbial pathogens during particular seasons.
3. PRIORITIES FOR ACTION AND ORGANIZATION OF THE COMMITTEE
One surprising fact which emerged from the discussions was the fact
that there was no organized framework for Mediterranean microbiology and
that the CIESM group could provide such a framework. Most participants
from the less developed countries felt that this framework would be of
great benefit to them since it would provide them with information and
a means of direct communication which they currently lack.
Directory of Mediterranean microbiologists
One suggestion which was unanimously approved was that there should be
an updated directory designed to provide all members of the committee with
a list of Mediterranean microbiologists and biochemists, their research
areas, and modes of communication. This would be particularly helpful for
younger scientists who are just beginning their careers and looking for
modes of international and/or regional collaborative projects.
One interesting project for Committee coordination was the identification
of specific Research Centers of Excellence in which junior and/or senior
scientists might make extended visits in order to obtain specific research
training, carry out specific experiments, and obtain expertise in particular
research areas. Such exchanges could be multidisciplinary.
Methods and protocols
A number of experimental approaches were discussed during the Siena workshop.
In particular issues related to number and variety of species, enumeration
of microorganisms, establishing the phylogenetic and physiological
relationships,and establishing the geographical location of a particular isolate to a specific location as well as a host of other protocols were considered.
One suggestion which arose was to prepare a kind of "cookbook" of laboratory protocols in marine microbiology which could be of great
use to various groups around the Mediterranean. In particular, such a manual
of procedures could prove quite useful to a new or less developed laboratory.
For more information, contact Prof.