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Biology and Evolution of Marine Organisms (BEOM):

  • Title: Behavioral plasticity in Octopus vulgaris
    SZN Tutor: Graziano Fiorito
    Department: BEOM

Description:

Analysis of problem-solving capability in the common octopus, based also on historical data related to behavioral performance. Study of inter-individual variability in contextual learning

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  • Title: Annotating octopus brain regions: a development of an interactive digital atlas for the cephalopod brain
    SZN Tutor: Graziano Fiorito
    Department: BEOM

Description

A brain atlas is a necessary tool for analyzing structure and function of nervous system in fields of neuroscience and behavioral science. Although various annotations are available for 'brains' of several mammalian and few other species including some invertebrates, annotation for 'brains' of cephalopod mollusks is not available. The proposed thesis work is aimed at filling this gap and implementing a pipeline for construction of a flexible annotation atlas (FAA) of the octopus (O. vulgaris) brain. The workplan include analysis of published works and in-house resources (available at the octopus lab, BEOM Dept, Stazione Zoologica), annotation of serial sections of entire adult octopus’ brain, data on brain structure, digital representation of single areas and ROIs. The produced FAA will be then available as Open Data – implementing FAIR Data Principles – and will help improving the consistency of whole brain ROI definition among laboratories internationally by fulfilling various requests from researchers with its flexibility and reproducibility. The same principles utilized for octopus will be subsequently adopted for other cephalopod species.

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Ecosustainable Marine Biotechnology (BIOTECH)

  • Title: Isolation and characterization of microalgae from high anthropogenic impacted areas
    Tutor: Lucia Barra
    Department: BLUBIO, Calabria site

Description

The activities will include the sampling of sea water and sediments in sites with high contaminants presence such as metals and hydrocarbons, and their enrichment for the isolation of species through the use of capillary method and serial dilutions. The photosynthesizing eukaryotic fraction will be genetically characterized through already published or newly designed molecular markers. The construction of phylogenetic trees with the sequences of the species obtained will relate the identified communities from an evolutionary point of view.

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  • Title: Evaluation of physiological response of microalgae in presence of metals
    Tutor: Lucia Barra
    Department: BLUBIO, Calabria site

Description

The student will evaluate the growth response of different microalgal species, isolated from highly impacted areas, in the presence of toxic metals such as zinc, lead, cadmium, mercury and chromium III-VI, regarding both the single metal and a mix of them. The responses will be categorized into lethal-sublethal-tolerant-resistant and the analysis of the adsorbed and/or accumulated fraction will be conducted using ICP-MS technology. The establishment of algal consortia that work in synergistic mode will be the aim of the study conducted.

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Integrated Marine Ecology (EMI):

  • Title: The metabolites of invasive algal species: direct and indirect effects and potential practical outcomes
    Tutor SZN: Mirko Mutalipassi
    Department: EMI (NA)

Description

The experimental thesis project focuses on analyzing the metabolites of marine macroalgae considered "alien" and their impacts on vertebrates and invertebrates in marine environments. The primary objective goes beyond mere characterization and identification of key metabolites, emphasizing the understanding of their ecological role, as well as the direct and indirect effects these compounds can have on marine organisms, influencing predation dynamics, competition, and the entire trophic network. Additionally, the research aims to evaluate potential applications of these metabolites, opening new perspectives for the sustainable exploitation of these extraordinary marine resources. This study will contribute to a greater understanding of marine ecology and potential implications for the management and conservation of coastal ecosystems.

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  • Title: Marine sponges as producers of active metabolites: ecological role and applications
    Tutor SZN: Mirko Mutalipassi
    Department: EMI (NA)

Description

The experimental thesis project constitutes an in-depth investigation into the metabolic profile of specific marine sponges, with particular attention to those classified as "alien," exploring their potential as a source of antifouling compounds. The primary objective is to conduct comprehensive characterization and identify metabolites with relevant functions, as well as to study in detail their impact on the different stages of marine biofouling. Through experimental activities, our aim is to understand how these metabolites may influence the initial stages of fouling, related to bacterial and microalgal activities, as well as the subsequent stages involving macrofoulers such as mussels and ascidians. This research aims to maximize the use of marine species considered alien as a source of molecules with potential applications in biotechnology, particularly in the field of antifouling.

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  • Title: Integrated taxonomy studies in marine invertebrates
    SZN Tutor: Laura Nunez Pons
    Department: EMI

Description:

Research based on the classification of marine invertebrates applying techniques for the morphological description and diagnosis of species identification, and molecular approaches related to DNA barcoding and phylogeny.

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  • Title: Allelopathy and functional symbioses in marine holobionts
    SZN Tutor: Laura Nunez Pons
    Department: EMI

Description:

Studies related to symbiotic interactions taking place in marine ecosystems and their role in organismal health, disease, and acclimatization to the environment via metabolic fluxes of nutrients, defensive compounds and allelochemical mediators.

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  • Title: IBiology and  ecology of fish early life stages in the south-central Tyrrhenian Sea
    SZN Tutor: Lorenzo Ciannelli
    Department: EMI, Ischia Marine Centre, Ischia (NA)

    Description:

The early stages (eggs, larvae and juveniles) of the fish life cycle have high mortality rates which influence the population dynamics of the adult stages. For many commercial species of the southcentral Tyrrhenian there is no knowledge on the reproduction areas of fish eggs and larvae and of the bio-physical processes that influence their transport and survival. The aim of this study is to characterize the ichthyoplankton communities of the Gulf of Naples and Gaeta, using various coastal and oceanic sampling systems, and to create bio-physical models to predict the transport of fish eggs and larvae.

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  • Title: Integrative taxonomy as a tool to assess the true biodiversity of the marine biota of the Gulf of Naples (Italy, Mediterranean Sea)
    SZN Tutor: Fabio Crocetta
    Department: EMI

Description:

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most important biodiversity hotspots worldwide. However, many local zoological groups have not been subjected to a deep review based on
modern methods. The aim of the project will be to explore the biota of the Gulf of Naples through an integrative taxonomy approach – i.e. a comprehensive framework to delimit and describe taxa by integrating information from ecological, molecular, and morphological data. Data obtained will have important implications in conservation issues, refine phylogenetic relationships and species boundaries, and shed a light on evolutionary lines and cryptic diversity.

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  • Title: Formation and morphological description of spores in diatoms of the genus Chaetoceros
    SZN Tutor: Wiebe Kooistra
    Department: EMI

Description:

Many species in the planktonic diatom genus Chaetoceros form resting spores to survive unfavourable conditions. The candidate will expose monoclonal cultures of different Chaetoceros species to different conditions to induce spore formation. The ultrastructural characters of the spores will be studied by means of optical and electron microscopy and considered as diagnostic characters in the identification of the species.
Together with Marina Montresor

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  • Title: Biodiversity in the diatom genus Chaetoceros
    SZN Tutor: Wiebe Kooistra
    Department: EMI

Description:

The candidate isolates monoclonal strains within selected species complexes in the planktonic diatom genus Chaetoceros, identifythem by means of LM photography, DNA-extraction, PCR-amplification, and sequencing of choice strains and examine them in SEM and TEM. The objective is to describe new species.

Together with Diana Sarno

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  • Morphological plasticity in diatoms of the genus Chaetoceros in response to nutrient deficiency
    SZN Tutor: Wiebe Kooistra
    Department: EMI

Description

Monoclonal cultures of species in the planktonic diatom genus Chaetoceros will be grown under nutrient-limiting conditions to study their phenotypic plasticity. The morphology and ultrastructure of the different species under various conditions will be documented by optical and electron microscopy.
Together with Alessandra Rogato.

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  • Title: Identification of zoobenthic species in the mesophotic zone and extraction of qualitative and quantitative data using image analysis
    SZN Tutor: Eva Salvati
    Department: EMI

Description:

Identification of zoobenthic species in the mesophotic zone and extraction of qualitative and quantitative data using image analysis.

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Conservation of marine Animals and Public Engagement (CAPE):

  • Title: Patterns and drivers of native species richness decline in the Eastern Mediterranean
    SZN Tutor: Paolo Albano
    Department: CAPE

Description:

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea is under the siege of climate warming, biological invasions, and further local stressors. We quantify today's and historical native Mediterranean and non-indigenous species richness with extensive sampling programs and use multidisciplinary approaches at the interface of marine ecology and paleontology to quantify species loss and identify its main drivers. Furthermore, we use functional trait studies and species distribution models to understand and predict the fate of the Mediterranean in future climate scenarios.

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Eco-sustainable Marine Biotechnology (BIOTECH):

  • Title: Functional characterization of the prostaglandin synthesis pathway in marine microalgae:

SZN Tutor: Valeria Di Dato
Department: BluBiotech

Description

Prostaglandins are molecules similar to second messengers and are mainly involved in inflammatory processes resolution as well as in the onset of serious pathologies. Their synthesis and related metabolic pathway have been recently discovered in marine eukaryotic unicellular microalgae. Understanding their role in such simple organisms and the functional regulation mechanisms will help decipher their ecological and physiological role as well as the importance of their conservation during the evolution of the planet.
Approaches used: biochemistry and molecular biology techniques; cell culture techniques; bioinformatics approaches.
Organisms used: marine microalgae (diatoms) and zooplanktonic species.

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  • Title: Comparative study of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase (COX) in different species of marine microalgae:

SZN Tutor: Valeria Di Dato
Department: BluBiotech

Description

In order to transform the production of prostaglandins through marine microalgae into a biotechnological application, the characterization of the chemical-physical and kinetic characteristics of the enzyme necessary for their synthesis, the cyclooxygenase, is crucial to prepare the ground for future application research lines.
Approaches used: biochemistry and molecular biology techniques.
Organisms used: bacteria and marine microalgae (diatoms).

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  • Title: Use of bioinformatic approaches for the identification of the prostaglandin synthesis "pathway" in different marine organisms:

SZN Tutor: Valeria Di Dato
Department: BluBiotech

Description

Prostaglandins are molecules involved in inflammatory and pathological processes that have been very well studied in humans. Very interesting has been considered their production in simple marine organisms such as diatoms, unicellular eukaryotic algae. Given the strong interest in marine resources both from an ecological and biotechnological point of view, it is very interesting to expand their research into other marine organisms in order to understand their role both in physiology and in the chemical communication necessary to establish a balance between the various species component the plankton. The new sequencing technologies supported by bioinformatics software are very useful and versatile to be able to perform a wide-spectrum study.
Approaches used: bioinformatics approaches.
Organisms used: marine microalgae and zooplanktonic species.

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  • Title: Molecular insights into the synthetic pathways of secondary metabolites produced by the diatom Thalassiosira rotula:

SZN Tutor: Valeria Di Dato
Department: BluBiotech

Description

Marine microalgae in the diatom group are particularly interesting for the production of metabolites deriving from secondary metabolism for adaptation to different climatic conditions. These metabolites mainly perform a defense function and therefore have biological activities that are often interesting for human use in the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical fields. Thalassiosira rotula is a species of diatom present in the Gulf of Naples capable of synthesizing some interesting secondary metabolites. Its genome and transcriptome have been sequenced thus allowing the identification of the pathways responsible for the synthesis of these metabolites. The sequences obtained from genomic and transcriptomic sequencing allow to investigate the activation of these pathways in different conditions through molecular approaches.
Approaches used: techniques of biochemistry, molecular biology and cell biology; cell culture techniques; bioinformatics approaches.
Organisms used: Thalassiosira rotula.

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  • Title: Discovery of the pharmacological potential of marine microalgae against telomerase activity in human cancers

SZN Tutor: Valeria Di Dato
Department: BluBiotech

Description

Telomeres are special sequences located at the ends of chromosomes whose role is to protect the ends of the DNA from damage. However, after each cell division their size decreases and when their length reaches a critical point, the cells undergo apoptosis and/or senescence. Thus, the length of telomeres can act as a biological clock to determine the life span of a cell and an organism, and their length is determined by an enzyme called telomerase. This enzyme is constitutively turned off in somatic cells, while it is highly active in germ cells allowing their continuous replication. Likewise, telomerase is expressed in approximately 90% of cancer cells, thus allowing for their indefinite proliferation. For this reason, telomerase inhibition may represent a preferred specific target for anticancer therapies. Various natural products, commonly derived from plants, have shown telomerase inhibitory activity and include secondary metabolites such as polyphenols, alkaloids, terpenoids, xanthones, and sesquiterpenes.
Marine eukaryotic microalgae are very important components of phytoplankton able to adapt to all kinds of ecological niches and physicochemical conditions due to a series of secondary metabolites they produce. The project aims to identify microalgae species that produce molecules capable of inhibiting telomerase activity in a set of different cancer cell lines for possible exploitation as an anticancer drug.
Approaches used: techniques of biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, bioinformatics approaches.
Organisms used: diatoms, dinoflagellates.

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  • Title: Biotechnological potential of enzymes from diatoms
    SZN Tutor: Giovanna Romano
    Department: BIOTECH

Description

Marine microorganisms must endure habitats characterized by extreme conditions of salinity, temperature or pressure. Their enzymes present concomitant features, e.g. thermostability or halo-stability, which are appealing for practical applications. The proposed project will focus on lipases and lipoxygenases enzymes from diatoms, since we expect new and useful feature for applications in the food industry e.g. for improving the quality of bread and for flavor enhancement of food products (lipases); in bleaching of colored components and production of aroma compounds (lipoxygenases).

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