College of Arts & Sciences

UNCW Center for Marine Science Awarded Two NC Biotech Grants to Advance Marine Biotech Research

AUGUST 25, 2022

Biotechnology is a growing industry, and its products have the potential to significantly improve our health and the health of the environment. UNCW's Center for Marine Science (CMS), which features Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina (MARBIONC), are leaders in biotech innovation, and with the help of two grants from the NC Biotechnology Center, their role is rising to a whole new level. UNCW's Dr. Catharina Alves-de-Souza and Dr. Remington X. Poulin were awarded grants to upgrade capabilities and expand their lab equipment. These improvements will significantly increase the abundance and accessibility of their research for both UNCW and the greater biotech community.

Dr. Alves-de-Souza, research professor and director of UNCW’s Algal Resources Collection (UNCW-ARC), works on microalgal ecology with a focus on the growth and maintenance of harmful algal species. The collection has been used in various research areas, from academic to commercial, and even industrial. The microalgae can be applied at these levels in nutraceutical, pharmaceutical and biomass studies. In North Carolina, biotechnological applications of high-value microalgal compounds are increasingly becoming a greater focus for research institutions and life science companies. With this growing demand, UNCW-ARC needs to expand its resources. The almost $150,000 grant from the NC Biotechnology Center will supply a continuous-flow thermal sterilizer, a tool that will significantly improve UNCW-ARC's large‐scale culturing capability. The equipment will also allow for developing and optimizing culturing protocols for biomass production of challenging‐to‐grow microalgae for biotechnological use. Large‐scale cultivation is one of the main demands of the research community and industry dedicated to microalgal biotech. This elevated capability is key for research and development, as well as the commercialization of microalgal products of biotech interest. A broad scope of researchers from various state academic institutions such as NC State University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Appalachian State will benefit from this new state of the art equipment, as will innovative companies who focus on microalgal biotechnological application and potential.

In addition, the Mass Spectrometry Facility at CMS, received a $95,000 NC Biotech grant to incorporate new equipment to the current lab infrastructure. The lab is adding a desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) source to be used with the existing Xevo G2-XS QToF mass spectrometer housed and operated in this core facility at CMS. This DESI source technology will expand the instrumental capabilities of this lab to include previously impossible MS imaging experiments. This DESI addition is the first in the Cape Fear region and will serve UNCW students, faculty, industrial partners and other higher education institutes. Dr. Poulin, a research assistant professor and director of UNCW Spectroscopy Facilities, describes the importance of MS:

"Mass spectrometry imaging is at the forefront of analytics. This technology adds spatial information to our understanding of which compounds are present in a sample. If we think about a tea leaf, for example, we can extract many of the compounds present by simply placing the leaf in boiling water and collecting the water as an extract. However, we lose the spatial resolution of where those compounds are localized. With this new ionization technology, we can keep the leaf intact and determine where each of those compounds exists in/on the leaf. This previously unavailable information is vital in helping answer questions like, "Why is this compound being produced?" and "Why is this compound found in this specific location?" Our researchers at CMS will now be able to address many of these important questions using our state-of-the-art analytical facilities."

UNCW's MARBIONC and CMS are already vital players in biotech. Installing and utilizing this equipment will further strengthen their capabilities. Additionally, acquiring the continuous-flow thermal sterilizer and DESI source provides state of the art biotech equipment in the Cape Fear Region. These tools, set to be installed later this year, will foster and advance the depth of research from CMS and MARBIONC to further advance biotech innovations.

– Arden Lumpkin