Searching the Arctic ocean for novel antimicrobials – our first research cruise experience

Written by Andrea Iselin Elvheim and Ataur Rahman.

Sea ice.

In august we attended a research cruise on the research vessel “Kronprins Haakon”, the Biodiscovery Cruise 2020. We were three scientists from our group: The Marine Bioprospecting Group, together with 14 other scientists mainly from UiT. The aim of our group was collecting marine invertebrates, marine sediments, and marine bacteria for discovering bioactive compounds. The discovery of novel bioactive compounds is important in combating the increasing amount of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria and finding new medicines. New compounds can also be useful in research and other industries.

The participants from the Marine Bioprospecting Group: Ataur Rahman, Klara Stensvåg and Andrea Iselin Elvheim, on Bear Island.

We started in Longyearbyen 4th of August and travelled north towards the ice edge. Our first sample was from the northernmost part of the cruise. Then, we sampled while moving south along the Atlantic Ridge. A major highlight was sampling from the Molloy Hole, the deepest part of the Arctic Ocean, with approximately 5550 m below the surface. With the help of the experienced crew, we finally succeeded in collecting sediments after three unsuccessful tries. We also sampled around and on Bear Island, before we travelled back home to Tromsø on 22nd of August.”

The stations where we collected samples.

In the northernmost parts of our journey, we got to experience large amounts of drift ice, a truly fascinating sight. After a week of nice weather and almost completely calm waters, we encountered the rough, undulating sea and experienced seasickness for the first time. That cost us one day of working! We went ashore on Bear Island, on a beautiful beach below a bird cliff with unfathomable amounts of birds. There were several species of birds including fulmars, seagulls and puffins. After the final sampling near Bjørnøya, we had the chance to catch some fish. We enjoyed sorting the fish, learning how to cut filets, and got to taste some fresh shrimps on board.

Puffins on Bear Island. Foto: Aleksander Eeg.

Life on board followed specific routines. It revolved around meals and collecting samples, in that order. We were sampling continuously through the day and night, and therefore had to work in shifts. Between the meals, our shifts, and when waiting for samples we had some spare time. This was mainly spent socialising, sleeping, reading, watching movies, exercising, knitting, or watching whales and birds. Parts of the journey, a young falcon accompanied us, after he lost his course and got stranded on the ship. He soon won everyone’s hearts and became the mascot of the cruise.

The falcon visiting RV Kronprins Haakon during the cruise. Foto: Aleksander Eeg.

For our group the sampling mainly consisted of isolating bacteria from marine invertebrates and marine sediment. We collected marine invertebrates, such as sponges, sea stars, sea anemones, and bryozoans from the bottom of the sea using a beam trawl, a small trawl that moves along the bottom. First, we rinsed the contents of the beam trawl were of sediments. Then, we sorted the animals. We crushed interesting invertebrates with sterile salt water, and plated this on agar plates. To collect sediments we used a box corer, a box with a lid for the bottom that closes after the box has been pressed into the sediments. The sediments are trapped in the box exactly as they were on the seabed. After collecting sediments we mixed it with sterile salt water and plated it on agar plates. In addition to growing bacteria, we also froze down big quantities of animals for chemical extraction of compounds.

The marine invertebrates we collected from the Molloy Hole.

Taking sediment sample from the box corer.

Now that we are back in Tromsø, we will continue with isolation, identification and characterization of interesting marine bacteria that could be a potential source of bioactive compounds. We are excited about getting some new equipment that will help with identifying bacteria, and we are optimistic that we will get some good results. For the two of us, this was our first research cruise. We had many new and amazing experiences, got to know some new people, and hopefully we will get some interesting results, helping us towards finishing our PhDs.

Bacteria from one of the marine invertebrates.