A day out taking samples

Updated: Apr 22

The sun carefully tries to shine through the clouds, but nevertheless it remains cold on the beach in Katwijk. The students carefully go into the sea for their research and try not to get too wet. Marine biologist Jan Macher, however, does not mind the cold. He easily goes up to his knees into the sea as if it were nothing. He would do anything for science.

Together they collect seawater in bottles and add small scoops of North Sea beach to analyze the biodiversity present on the beach. After this, they sieve the sand mixture and filter out the smallest organisms they are interested in, called meiofauna. Meiofauna are animals smaller than 1 mm, but bigger than 30 µm. Macher has a whole backpack full of these bottles and hopes to fill a lot more of them with small animals for his research in the near future.

This is because he has received a grant of 100,000 euros for his research from the Bauer-Hollmann Stiftung in Germany. Together with ARISE, he is trying to crack the genetic code of as many small organisms as possible that can be found on the beach. Besides this, he is hoping to find out which species live on the beach and how they respond to environmental changes. This is important because they have different ecological characteristics, respond quickly to changes in the environment, and can potentially be used to monitor the ecological status of beaches

Once they return to the lab, the students look closely at their specimens they found under a microscope. They can see all kinds of animals that look like little worms, but they are not quite sure what they are exactly. Together with their supervisor Macher, they try to match the animals they found with photos from the Marine Meiofauna book. Meiofauna are organisms that live in the sand. What Jan Macher's research mainly focuses on, is environmental DNA and RNA. These are all kinds of DNA residues in the environment that allow you to recognize which species occur in that environment.

This type of research is very important to ARISE because it allows us to expand our DNA database even more. The aim of ARISE is to gain an overview of multicellular organisms, so that in the future we can recognize species more easily and faster by looking at DNA. Jan Macher's research therefore makes a good contribution to this. Only if we know what is present, we can preserve it.