#02 2024

SMCRI microalgae laboratory – new capabilities for impactful research

By Dr Phumlile Cotiyane-Pondo, Elwandle Coastal Node, NRF-SAEON

As part of the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) hosted by the Elwandle Coastal Node, the Microalgae Laboratory acquired two new assets to enhance the lab’s capability in plankton imaging. 

The Node has been conducting monthly pelagic ecosystem long-term ecological research (PELTER), commonly referred to in the Node as “plankton runs”, in the Algoa Bay sentinel site since 2007. To date, the laboratory analyses of phytoplankton (also known as microalgae) have been conducted using the traditional light microscopy techniques.

To keep up with improved technologies and innovative methods worldwide, the Microalgae Laboratory added a benchtop flow imaging instrument (referred to as a FlowCam) capable of capturing and quantifying high-resolution phytoplankton images and other microscopic particles. The FlowCam will aid in the quick visualisation and analyses of marine phytoplankton samples, reducing the time and effort spent using traditional microscopy for analysis.

Another valuable addition to the laboratory is the Desktop Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). This user-friendly instrument uses a beam of electrons to provide a high-resolution image of the sample of interest. With the Elwandle Node’s research focus on marine diatoms and other microscopic organisms such as foraminifera, the Desktop SEM provides an easily accessible platform to visualise and image the morphology and ultrastructure of these organisms during species identification studies.

These new instruments are not only in line with NRF-SAEON’s vision of “world-class environmental research platforms for a sustainable society”, they also offer training and upskilling opportunities in marine plankton analyses methods to a variety of stakeholders including scientists, students and interns.

SAEON Elwandle team during a refresher training with a visiting collaborator from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE). From left: HSRC intern Zonke Mrubata, PhD student Brishan Kalyan, marine biology assistant Danielle Chetty, DFFE marine scientist Seshnee Maduray and plankton ecologist Dr Phumlile Cotiyane-Pondo.

The FlowCam 8100 provides a rapid and reliable method for the routine monitoring of marine waters in Algoa Bay and other sentinel sites across the country as part of the PELTER programme.

Sample analyses output.

Desktop Scanning Electron Microscope (above), showing image output of a diatom valve (below).