My friend António, a research fellow who is part of the marine microbiology group at UiB, was kind enough to provide me with a tour of the lab where he does his research. The marine microbiology group is part of UiB’s biology (BIO) department, one of the largest of UiB’s departments. BIO research spans a range of disciplines including developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and microbiology, as well as ecology and biodiversity. António’s lab is housed in Marineholmen, a research park that houses UiB’s biology department along with a number of other companies, research institutions and organizations.
António hails from Lisbon, Portugal and he received his Bachelors degree in Portugal. He has also studied abroad, receiving his Masters of Science in the Netherlands and his PhD in France. He came to Bergen as a Postdoc in 2011.
António didn’t want me to photograph him in the lab, so I ‘borrowed’ this image from: http://www.uib.no/en/persons/Antonio.Pagarete
António studies viruses of microbes. He and other members of his group specifically examine aquatic viruses. Didn’t realize the ocean was chock-full of viruses? António once remarked to me that, after informing new friends that there are more than 10 million viruses per ml of ocean water, his new friends generally say, “I’m never swimming in the ocean again”. Aquatic viruses are fascinating, however, as they play fundamental roles in Ecology and Evolution of life.
An example of aquatic viruses at work: As you may know, single-celled algae can ‘bloom’ in dramatic ways, covering enormous oceanic expanses that can range for miles (see the picture below with an impressive miroalgal bloom in the English Channel). Well, viruses can check these blooms, and decimate them in a matter of a few days.
António has years of experience with microalgae (microscopic algae) and algae blooms. He told me a tale of a month’s worth of late nights and early mornings at the Espeland Marine Station on his first research project in Norway, examining the meanders of viral infection during an induced algae bloom in a mesocosm (an experimental system allowing controlled conditions that mimics the natural environment). António is currently conducting a NFR project. For this he has compiled a very international little group (consisting of 3 students from Spain, France, and the Netherlands in addition to him). Together they are trying to measure the real impact that viruses have on microalgae. Recently he has also discovered that a virus they had isolated in front of Gamlehaugen (a place where we like to swim…) has some obscure links with human pathogens. Nothing to worry about though 😉
Growing some Tetraselmis (as well as other fine microbial life) in the lab. Photo: Stand Hiestand
I tricked António into a tiny interview. He’s rather shy and would have preferred to stay both off camera and out of the spotlight. Sorry António! I actually didn’t intentionally trick you, I was just having an off-moment in my communication (which is usually excellent, of course!).
António got into his field due to his fascination with life and its diversity. He feels continually impressed by the worlds that exist beyond what our eyes can see. He appreciates the high quality of life here in Norway and the “chilled-out” environment of his research group. He enjoys the excellent research environment provided by University of Bergen and the opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning that being in a University setting provides in general.
The marine orientation of Bergen is part of why António cites this city as being an excellent locale for the type of research he does. Also, some the researchers he works with were among the first people publishing on the role of viruses in the oceans. Additionally, the department of biology’s infrastructure is “amazing”. The infrastructure impresses him even in the context of the many places he’s studied and worked in the past.
I asked him for an ‘insider-tip’ for people who may be joining the biology department. He suggested looking for the people doing daily yoga on the roof around lunch time. This activity is organized by the people of the department. António appreciates the implications of the department organizing a healthy activity that people within the department can participate in.
Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at some cool lab stuff from the Marine Microbiology Group!
Cool Lab Stuff
The ‘Wet Lab’. Here one can work with water samples. Filtration is the most crucial step in marine microbiology . The cabinets house many a filtration device. These can range in their complexity. Photo: Stand Hiestand
An example of a more complex filter that may be used to refine samples (taking out substances that the researches don’t want to study). This one collect viruses. Photo: Stand Hiestand
A fridge full o’ viruses.No one would have guessed, but these guys actually keep a fridge full of viruses. Each tube has a different one. You will not easily find a fridge like this anywhere you go in the world… Photo: Stand Hiestand
Another lab shot (top) and some helpful equipment. A machine where ‘real time PCR‘ can be performed (bottom left). PCR is laboratory technic used to amplify (make multiple copies of) a specific dna sequence from only a few or a single copy. Real time PCR moniters the numbers of copies as the process proceeds, instead of determining the count at the end. It’s extremely powerful to determine who is doing what in the microbial world at any time. On the bottom right is a centrifuge, it goes really really fast (50.000 rotations per minute!). At this speed it can even can precipitate viruses – in other words force them out of solution and gather them at the bottom of a container. Read about centrifuges here. Photo: Stand Hiestand
Science action-shot! A Masterstudent in the lab is also too shy for the camera 🙂 Photo: Stand Hiestand
Growin’ algae in the lab. Photo: Stand Hiestand
More tools of the trade. The all important microscope (bottom right), and a flow cytometer, which allows to discriminate and count the different groups of microbes and viruses in a water sample (left and top right).
Prepping a sample to take a look at it under the microscope. Photos: Stand Hiestand
Taking a peek at a sample. “Looks like a party”, as António said. This party included celsl in mitosis (splitting) in this sample that I got to see under the microscope! Sadly it didn’t show up in my iphone picture. Photo: Stand Hiestand
Convinced you’d like to study biology or marine microbiology at UiB? (I know I am!) Learn about the programmes available and the admissions process at the BIO site.