Universiteit Leiden

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Briegel winner in global competition by the Moore Foundation

Ariane Briegel, Professor of Ultrastructural biology in Leiden, has received a prestigious incentive from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. With the grant of 800,000 euros, Briegel will set up a new research line into studying symbiotic interactions on the nanoscale.

On 28 July, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation announced investing $19 million over the next three years in their Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative. A total of 42 international research teams received a grant. Ariane Briegel, Professor of Ultrastructural Biology at the Institute of Biology Leiden, takes part in one of the awarded teams. She received an amount of 800,000 euros for a new research line into aquatic symbiosis. ‘This award enables my team to develop new microscopy methods to gain unprecedented insight into the detailed interactions between the marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri and its host, the Hawaiian bobtail squid Euprymna scolopes’, Briegel says. ‘The interaction with microbes and its importance in health and disease of animals and humans is becoming increasingly clear in the recent years. Natural associations between a single species of bacteria with an animal host are ideal to gain an understanding of those interactions.’

Camouflage with bioluminescent light

Symbioses are mutually beneficial partnerships and associations between two organisms from different species, in this case, the bacterium Vibrio fischeri and the squid Euprymna scolopes. The bacterium feeds itself with sugars and proteins from the squid and releases bioluminescent light. The squid uses the light to camouflage itself in the moonlight in order not to cast a shadow on the seafloor, which makes him less visible for preys and predators.

Symbiosis in great detail

Postdoctoral associate Katrina Gundlach from the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii will play a key role in the project. Gundlach is an expert on the symbiosis system between the Vibrio-bacterium and the Hawaiian bobtail squid. This autumn, she will come to Leiden to work at NeCEN, the Netherlands Centre for Electron Nanoscopy. The state-of-the-art microscopy facility provides expertise in sample preparation, data collection, and subsequent processing. The advanced microscopes are specifically designed to explore complex biological structures. Briegel: ‘Now we can reveal the detailed structural interplay of both the microbe and the host cells in 3D at the nanoscale.’

Sharing methods and ideas

One of the conditions for the participating researchers is to share their methods and results. Adam Jones, Program Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, states: ‘The supported scientists will openly and actively share their methods and ideas online via protocols.io. This way, we can increase the pace of methods and technology development and limit unnecessary redundancy.’ According to Briegel, their research will have a lot to add: ‘Once established, our tools and workflows will be applicable to a wide range of biological questions related to cellular interactions.’

About the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

Gordon Moore is co-founder and former president and CEO of Intel Corporation and helped to shape what is now known as Silicon Valley. He and his wife Betty are philanthropists contributing for decades to science, environmental conservation, patient care and the San Francisco Bay Area.

 According to the Moore Foundation, aquatic ecosystems comprise the largest habitat on Earth and are the least understood. Their Symbiosis in Aquatic Systems Initiative strives to illuminate how symbioses involving microorganisms function, evolve and serve critical ecosystem roles.

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