PhD in Marine Biotechnology
Marine biologist and Scientist Anshika Singh is working as an experienced post-doctoral fellow under DST-Women Scientists-A scheme at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), TIFR, Bengaluru, India under the mentorship of Prof. Sudhir Krishna and co-mentionship of Prof. Shannon Olsson. She is a marine biologist by training who obtained her PhD from AcSIR, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, India. She was awarded the gold medal for the best PhD thesis. She has a bachelors and masters degree in engineering in the field of biotechnology. During her Ph.D., she worked on the chemical ecology of inter-tidal marine sponges, addressing the questions of best harvest time for marine-derived bioactive compounds for bioprospecting. She explored the trade-offs among the sponges’ primary and secondary life-history functions. During her initial first year of bridging post-doctoral at NCBS, she started marine sponge aquaculture and primmorph culture work where she tried to understand the immune system of these simplest sea animals “marine sponges” using high-throughput omics research. At present, she is trying to study the impact of anthropogenic pollution (particularly microplastics) on the marine sponges and explore the potential of using these sponges as the bioindicator of environmental conditions of the reef. In parallel, she is also developing an interdisciplinary action-plan to utilize these marine sponges and their unique symbionts for the welfare of human beings. Her primary research interests are marine sponges and its microbial diversity, environmental genomics, marine chemical ecology and blue biotechnology.
anshikasingh at ncbs dot res dot in
About the project: SPONGE WATCH PROGRAM for Microplastics Pollution
The wonderful world of Marine sponges: Marine sponges belong to phylum ‘Porifera’ which means ‘pore-bearers’. They are generally known as sponges due to their soft, porous and squashy body. They look nothing like the famous cartoon character “Sponge Bob Square Pants. Neither do they resemble the synthetic sponge which you might have seen in your kitchen or bathroom. Sponges are very diverse in their sizes, shapes, and colours. They are so colourful that you can probably complete drawing a rainbow by putting different colours of sponges found naturally.
While some sponges are quite bright, you also find the sponges which are white or dull coloured. There are about 9000 species of sponges known worldwide and about 500 species are present in India alone. They are distributed widely, right from the deep oceans to the rocky intertidal zones, the frozen poles to the sun-baked tropics, from brackish waters to the freshwater ponds, tanks, and rivers. Sponges are minimalists – they do not have any digestive, nervous, circulatory or excretory systems. They filter the surrounding seawater to obtain their nutrition. They are very efficient filter-feeders. They can filter more than twice of their body volume in a minute. They obtain their nutrition and oxygen by filtering a large amount of surrounding seawater. Marine sponges have been reported to thrive in areas with high anthropogenic pollution. Marine sponges are the good care-takers of our marine ecosystems as due to their simplest body structure, wide abundance, species richness, filter-feeding, and sessile (non-locomotory) lifestyle. They continuously pump a large amount of surrounding seawater and can concentrate a wide range of pollutants, right from heavy metals to organic pollutants. On top of this, they are extremely tolerant of these pollutants and have proper detoxification systems in place.
Image: Seawater sample collection using CTD during off-shore cruise
Image: Oceanographic sampling and analysis of CTD data
Our research focuses on understanding if these marine sponges can also filter the MP from the surrounding environment. If they can filter out, where do they store these MP inside their simplest two-layered, tissue -less, cellular body? Do they have developed any special cellular structures to accumulate these toxins? or Do they have any best friend (symbionts) living inside them who can help to avoid the damaging effect of plastics and its additives? We are on the quest to find the answers to these interesting and very relevant questions to arrive at innovative measures for plastic waste management, marine pollution monitoring, marine ecosystems health management and sustainable utilization of marine resources.