Marine biologist and Scientist
Anshika Singh is working as an independent researcher under DST-Women Scientists-A scheme at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), TIFR, Bengaluru, India. She is a marine biologist by training who obtained her Ph.D. from AcSIR, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Goa, India. She was awarded with gold medal for the best Ph.D. thesis. She has a bachelors and masters degree in engineering in field of biotechnology. During her Ph.D., she worked on the chemical ecology of inter-tidal marine sponges, addressing the questions of best harvest time for marine-derived bioactive compounds for bioprospecting. She explored the trade-offs among the sponges’ primary and secondary life-history functions. During her post- doctoral position at NCBS, she did her research on the immune system of the marine sponges using high-throughput omics research. At present, she is trying to study the impact of anthropogenic pollution (particularly microplastics) on the marine sponges and explore the potential of using these sponges as the bioindicator of environmental conditions of the reef. In parallel, she is also developing an interdisciplinary action-plan to utilize these marine sponges and their unique symbionts for the welfare of human beings. Her primary research interests are marine sponges and its microbial diversity, environmental genomics, marine chemical ecology and blue biotechnology.
Talk Title: Marine Sponges -the vacuum cleaners of our oceans
Marine sponges belong to phylum ‘Porifera’ which means ‘pore-bearers’. They are generally known as sponges due to their soft, porous and squashy body. They look nothing like the famous cartoon character “Sponge Bob Square Pants. Neither do they resemble the synthetic sponge which you might have seen in your kitchen or bathroom. They are very diverse in their sizes, shapes, and colours. You can easily complete drawing a rainbow by putting different colours of sponges found naturally. While some sponges are quite bright, you also find the sponges which are white or dull coloured. There are about 9000 species of sponges known worldwide and about 500 species are present in India alone. They are distributed widely, right from the deep oceans to the rocky intertidal zones, the frozen poles to the sun-baked tropics, from brackish waters to the freshwater ponds, tanks, and rivers.
Sponges are minimalists – they do not have any digestive, nervous, circulatory or excretory systems. They filter the surrounding seawater to obtain their nutrition. They are very efficient filter-feeders. They can filter more than twice of their body volume in a minute. They obtain their nutrition and oxygen by filtering a large amount of surrounding seawater. Marine sponges have been reported to thrive successfully in areas with high anthropogenic pollution. Marine sponges are the good care-takers of our marine ecosystems as due to their simplest body structure, wide abundance, species richness, filter-feeding, and sessile (non-locomotory) life style. They continuously pump a large amount of surrounding seawater and are able to concentrate a wide range of pollutants, right from heavy metals to organic pollutants. On top of this, they are extremely tolerant of these pollutants and have proper detoxification systems in place. Marine sponges also act as a very suitable system to monitor environmental health such as microplastics pollution. It is important to identify monitoring parameters and to determine the most appropriate biological indicators for long-term microplastics monitoring. These parameters can be listed out and designed in the form of user-friendly kits to allow the common public to take part in such environmental monitoring programs. Although marine sponges are doing their jobs very efficiently it is the need of the hour not only to appreciate their role but also take necessary steps for their conservation. A suitable science-citizen program will allow the public to take the responsibility, get connected to the marine world and understand the concept of “ONE OCEAN -ONE HEALTH” i.e. it is important to maintain our marine ecosystem to maintain our own existence on this blue planet.