UNCW Research Professor Catharina Alves-de-Souza Receives $581,765 NSF Grant

Thursday, February 10, 2022

UNCW Research Professor Catharina Alves-de-Souza, director of the UNCW’s Algal Resources Collection, has been awarded a three-year, $581,765 grant from the National Science Foundation to advance the study of microalgae species causing harmful algal blooms. 

The grant, called “ICBR Capacity: Biological Collections: Updates to the Operation of the Algal Resources Collection,” will support updates to the research capabilities of the collection, such as the implementation of imagery flow cytometry and cryopreservation capability. 

Imagery flow cytometry allows for automated quantification and form/structure characterization of the microalgal cultures, while the cryopreservation storage capability provides long-term storage of cultures.

Toxic microalgae have serious adverse effects varying from fish kills to human illnesses caused by the consumption of shellfish contaminated with algal toxins, said Alves-de-Souza, a researcher professor in the Center for Marine Science. The economic impact from blooms of these microalgae can be devastating to fishing and shellfish industries and tourism.

“The value of the ARC as a scientific resource goes beyond the cultures maintained in the collection,” Alves-de-Souza said. “Our expertise in isolating and maintaining microalgal toxic species enables us to assist scientists with no experience or available infrastructure in maintaining microalgal cultures. Toxins produced by microalgae can also be used to develop new pharmaceutical compounds. The ARC plays an important role in this scenario as the source of the strains from which new bioactive compounds are discovered.”

Alves-de-Souza and the ARC team have been involved in several projects aiming to characterize harmful algal blooms in freshwater and estuarine species in North Carolina. One study looked at the species identification and toxicity of toxic cyanobacteria isolated during toxic blooms, which included the first report of a cyanobacteria species producing paralytic toxins in the state.

Alves-de-Souza also uses the microalgal cultures hosted in the ARC to investigate how climate change stressors such as increasing temperature and coastal acidification affect species interaction within plankton communities and the emergency of new harmful algal bloom events.

This is the second award from the National Science Foundation to Alves-de-Souza for the development of the ARC. The first grant, awarded in 2018, allowed for the transition of the ARC from a private research collection to a public resource. The Algal Resources Collection is located at MARBIONC at UNCW's CREST Research Park.

“With this second grant, we will take the last steps for the consolidation for the collection as it will allow for the development of a myriad of new projects aiming at a better understanding of the ecological factors affecting harmful algal bloom dynamics.”