CIESM Workshop Series n°2:

Current issues in marine microbiology
Siena, 2-5 August 1997

Summary Report

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 participated 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;
6. Modeling;
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.

A number of areas were identified as potential research areas which could be expanded within the framework of international cooperative efforts.
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 culturable;
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 properties;
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.

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.

Scientific exchange
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. D. Gutnick.