Introducing the Spiny Lobster Microbiome Project

Hi! It’s Ian, an undergraduate majoring in marine biology working in the Roy lab. Now don’t get me wrong, I love mollusks. Your aunt is having a clam bake? I’ll show up. Want to go to a raw oyster bar? I’ll be there. They’re all good, but if you really want know what kind of seafood gets me hyped, it only takes one word: Lobster. Now the only thing that gets me more excited than fresh caught lobster tails searing on a pan is science, and thanks to Alex, a graduate student in the lab, microbial ecology. I did a little digging and it turns out, nobody has ever looked into the microbial ecology of California spiny lobster. In fact, there have only been two studies conducted on the microbiomes of any spiny lobster species (genus Panulirus). This isn’t completely surprising since marine invertebrate microbiomes are no doubt the most slept-on aspect of all marine biology, but I figured I was in a good position to make something happen. Thus began the California spiny lobster microbiome project.

Besides personal interest, there are actually quite a few good reasons to look into the California spiny lobster microbiome. One of which is that the American lobster (you know, the one with the big claws, Homarus) is commonly infected with a shell surface disease and studies have indicated that infected lobster have much lower microbiome diversities than healthy individuals. This shows that studying the microbiome of lobsters and providing a healthy baseline could provide valuable information with respect to disease. In addition, this study will examine the impacts anthropogenic factors on lobster microbiomes by comparing open coast individuals from La Jolla with those from a more enclosed environment in Mission Bay. Lobster samples will also be collected from other sites in southern California, representing the entire U.S. range of California spiny lobster. Another potential aspect of the project is looking at the carapace biofilm and testing if different parts of a lobster carapace have distinct microbial communities. Overall, spiny lobster is a $13 million (U.S.) fishery in California and the species provides a unique ecological role eating up detritus and keeping the seafloor clean. This study is the first of its kind and will provide new insights into the microbial ecology of this valuable and tasty species.

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