Revealing the Secrets of Marine Microbes: Exciting results from the MaCuMBA Project



Huge successes in the isolation and cultivation of marine microbial strains have been made by the EC-funded MaCuMBA (Marine Microorganisms: Cultivation Methods for Improving their Biotechnological Applications) project, which aims to uncover the untold diversity of marine microbes using cultivation-dependent strategies.

MaCuMBA coordinator Prof Lucas Stal (Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)), said: “MaCuMBA aims to improve the isolation rate and growth efficiency of marine microorganisms from conventional and extreme habitats by applying innovative methods and using automated high-throughput procedures. As the project enters its final year, a variety of exciting and novel results are consistently emerging, including the discovery of new taxa and species.”

For example, MaCuMBA researchers from the University of Western Brittany (UBO) in Brest, France, have isolated 11 new genera of alpha- and gammaproteobacteria and six other genera using anaerobic cultivation techniques. These novel strains are potentially highly significant, as proteobacteria as a class contain many strains which are of medical, ecological, and scientific importance. Almost 200 new species of fungi have also been isolated from the deep sub-seafloor by UBO.

“Historically, marine fungi have been a neglected group amongst microbiological researchers and these intriguing new discoveries will significantly contribute to existing knowledge of these fascinating microorganisms,” explained Prof Stal.

MaCuMBA researchers at the University of Warwick (UW) have discovered that while the marine cyanobacterium (bacteria that obtain their energy through photosynthesis) Synechococcus sp. entered the death phase after five to six weeks in pure culture, when it was co-cultivated with the marine heterotrophic bacterium (bacteria which require organic compounds for nourishment) Rugeria sp., cells of both genera remained in stationary phase (with equal growth and death rates) and viable up to six months.

Prof Stal said: “The MaCuMBA consortium has abandoned the old paradigm in microbiology that microorganisms can only be studied in pure single strain cultures. In nature, organisms do not live alone, but in close association with other species, with which they cooperate or compete by communicating, and exchange growth factors.”

Many of the microorganisms isolated and cultivated through MaCuMBA are exhibiting properties with potential positive human health impacts, and could be useful in the treatment of a variety of conditions. Transfer to industry partners continues in earnest in this final year in order to allow for high throughput screening of strains and scale up; which are the first steps toward clinical trials and potential medical applications.

The latest results of the project were presented at MaCuMBA’s third General Assembly, which was held in Reykjavík, Iceland, from the 21-25 September 2015. Representatives of the project’s 22 partner organisations attended the Assembly at the Icelandic Marine Research Institute. The meeting involved scientific presentations, workshops and two days of sampling in the Icelandic waters, facilitated by project partner Matís.

The key outcomes of MaCuMBA will be presented at its Final International Industry event entitled ‘The Marine Microbiome - Discovery & Innovation’, which will be held in Berlin, Germany, from 27-30 June 2016. This conference will bring the industrial and scientific worlds together, with a strong focus on the biotechnical application of marine microbes. Pre-registration for this exciting event is highly recommended and is available here:

For more information about MaCuMBA, please visit: For the latest news from MaCuMBA you can also follow the project on Twitter ( and like its Facebook page (