Evaluation of fertilization effect on Thymus × citriodorus biomass, essential oil composition, size and density of glandular trichomes

Projects leader: dr. Kristina Ložienė

Postdoc researcher: dr. Vaida Vaičiulytė

Postdoc duration: 2020.08.05–2022.08.04

Although the nature-identical chemical compounds are cheaper and widely used in different industries, they not always match the characteristics and bioactivity of natural chemical compounds, more often cause side effects. Therefore, much research has recently focused on biologically active substances of natural origin. Rich source of biologically active compounds are plants synthesizing various secondary metabolites with valuable properties. In order to meet the growing demands of plant raw materials with bioactive substances, is attempted to introduce new plant species into crops or to increase the productivity of existing crops. Literature data suggest more information about fertilization of food crops and feeding plants. However, there are little or no researches how to increase amounts of biologically active secondary metabolites in plants through fertilisation. Especially a little research has been done on organic fertilizers despite the being very relevant for organic cutivation of plants accumulating bioactive secondary metabolites. The commercially important essential oils bearing species of genus Thymus (Thymus vulgarisThymus zygis) are unsuitable for cultivation in northern part of ES due to the harsher climatic conditions of this region. Baltic region is suitable for cultivation of essential oil bearing interspecific hybrid Thymus × citriodorus (Thymus vulgaris × Thymus pulegioides), accumulating 57–80%, having lemon flavour and aroma and characterised by antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiinflammatory properties. Raw material of T. × citriodorus is used in food and pharmaceutical industries, also as a component of lemon flavour and aroma in teas used for therapeutic and nutritional purposes. Pure geraniol as an aromatic ingredient is in demand in production of cosmetics, household and food products. Therefore, T. × citriodorus is a potential natural source of geraniol and suitable for cultivation in the Baltic States. The objective of the project – to evaluate effect of fertilization on biomass yield,  quantitative and qualitative composition of essential oil, and characteristics of anatomical structures, related with essential oil accumulation, in T. × citriodorus.

Biodiversity assessment of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest coastal waters: Species richness and genetic variation of marine parasites and their fish hosts

Projects leader: dr. Olena Kudlai

Postdoc researcher: dr. Camila Pantoja de Oliveira

Postdoc duration: 2020 – 2022

Postdoc No.: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0182

Changes in global biodiversity have become one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time, facilitated by changes in climate, human activities, pollution and habitat destruction. Brazil supports a considerable portion of the world's biological diversity and its ecosystems play a crucial role in regional and global climate stability. However, our knowledge on the true biodiversity within the country is limited. Thus, the main ideas of the proposed project are to (i) comprehensively assess the diversity of marine parasites, their abundance and community structure in selected fishes occurring within the waters off the coastline of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and (ii) generate data for future research in the fields of fish parasitology and aquatic veterinary sciences by applying advanced morphological and molecular techniques. Together with baselines of trematode diversity, molecular data of their economically important fish hosts (families Carangidae, Sciaenidae and Scombridae) will be generated. The project will result in (i) much needed reliable data on species diversity and genetic variation of marine parasites and their fish hosts in Brazil and (ii) the professional development of an early-career researcher through obtaining novel skills, broadening the current knowledge base and establishing a professional network. Furthermore, the data obtained during the project will be used for future global biodiversity conservation programs and in risk assessments of the zoonotic potential of the detected fish parasites.

Does the viability of haemosporidian gametocytes change during different transmission seasons in nature?

Projects leader: prof. habil. dr. Vincas Būda

Postdoc researcher: dr. Dovilė Bukauskaitė

Postdoc duration: 2020 – 2022

Postdoc No.: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0171

Malaria and other haemosporidian parasites (Haemosporida) are widespread, and some species cause diseases in vertebrates, including humans. Many recent studies addressed avian haemosporidians worldwide. Parasitemia of these parasites markedly correlates with the seasons of the year, being relatively high during the period of active transmission (spring-summer) and low (chronic) when transmission decreases (autumn) probably due to the lowering of activity of dipteran vectors in Europe. Molecular studies show that European birds are infected and transport northern-origin parasite lineages to tropical regions where, however, they are not transmitted. This might be due to a decrease of viability of gametocytes during the chronic infection stage. There is no research on this subject, and it is unclear if viability of haemosporidian gametocytes changes in parallel with the parasitemia decrease in autumn. Our hypothesis is that viability of gametocytes decreases in autumn, indicating that migrating birds transport epidemiologically impotent parasites to wintering grounds, but a contrary situation occurs in spring when gametocytes of high potency are transported to bird breeding grounds in spring. The objective of this project is to test this hypothesis experimentally. To reach this goal, the sexual process of same Haemoproteus species (sister genus to malaria parasites) will be studied in vitro and in vivo. Bird blood with mature gametocytes will be collected and ability of ookinete development in vitro as well as experimental infections with laboratory-reared biting midges Culicoides nubeculosus will be carried out. The development patterns of these pathogens will be investigated combining molecular and microscopic protocols. We plan to obtain first data about the patency of haemosporidian gametocytes in different seasons of the year. This information will contribute to a better understanding of haemosporidiosis epidemiology and might be used for the development of disease preventive measures.

Mechanisms of the pathogenesis due to internal organ damage during avian haemosporidiosis

Projects leader: habil. dr. Gediminas Valkiūnas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Carolina Hernández-Lara (arriving from Mexica).

Project duration: 2020-08-05 – 2022-08-04.

Project code: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0005.

The project aims to get new knowledge and to train a young researcher on topics related to mechanisms of pathologies caused by exo-erythrocytic stages (EES) of avian haemosporidian parasites.

Exo-erythrocytic development of haemosporidian parasites in birds of prey

Projects leader: dr. Mindaugas Dagys

Postdoc researcher: dr. Mikas Ilgūnas

Postdoc duration: 2020–2022

Project no.: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0081

Avian haemosporidian parasites (Plasmodium and Haemoproteus) are of worldwide distribution and about 200 species have been described. Until recently, these pathogens were considered to be rather benign to the vertebrate hosts. However, studies published within the last 10 years have shown that haemosporidian parasites can cause severe damage to the infected birds due to development of exo-erythrocytic stages in the hosts’ internal organs. Although the virulence and pathogenicity are undeniable, knowledge on the developmental patterns of these stages remain lacking. This calls for research aimed at better understanding the life cycles, biology and ecology of avian haemosporidians. While preparing his PhD thesis, the postdoctoral fellow has mastered the techniques required to investigate the exo-erythrocytic development of haemosporidian parasites, however he gained little knowledge about bird biology which is crucial to fully understand the patterns of parasite-host interaction in the wild. The main aim of this project is to investigate the exo-erythrocytic development of haemosporidian parasites in naturally infected birds of prey, which remain non-investigated from this respect. Ornithologists of Nature Research Centre have experience in research of biology of birds of prey and are in collaboration with the Kaunas Tadas Ivanauskas Museum of Zoology, which can provide samples of deceased bird tissues. The proposed postdoctoral project is a multidisciplinary study which will contribute to better understanding of parasite life cycles and their effect on infected birds of prey. Histological methods, polymerase chain reaction-based diagnostic tools, light microscopy and fieldwork will be combined. The results obtained will uncover knowledge on the scarcely understood part of the life cycle of haemosporidian parasites as well as allow the postdoctoral fellow to broaden his understanding of avian biology which will greatly benefit him in his future work.

Influence of light and dark conditions on photophysiological response and production of leafy vegetables in closed-system horticulture

Projects leader: dr. Sigita Jurkonienė

Research fellow: dr. Viktorija Vaštakaitė-Kairienė

Postdoc duration: 2020–2022

Project no.09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0101

The natural phenomena caused by global climate changes lead to unpredictable crop yield and economic losses. Recently more leafy vegetables are producing in climate-smart crop production systems. The environmentally-friendly technology of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) is used to illuminate plants indoors. It allows reducing energy costs and select light parameters to stimulate the activity of plant photoreceptors to ensure growth, enhance desired nutritional properties, and to maintain the overall quality during the postharvest storage. In the world, including Lithuania, most of the studies were done to evaluate the effects of the light spectrum and intensity; however, the light and dark reactions in plants were not studied in detail. The project aims to evaluate the influence of light and dark conditions on the photophysiological response and production of popular leafy vegetables in closed horticultural systems. In experiments, the effects of light photoperiod and frequency on the phenotypic, photosynthetic, and biochemical characteristics of lettuce and kale at different growth stages under controlled environmental conditions will be determined. Further studies on plasma membrane ATPase activity, oxidative stress, and tolerance will enhance scientific knowledge of light and dark reactions in plants and allow them to predict the quantity and quality of the production. Based on the experimental results, the recommendations about using LED lighting in the climate-controlled systems will be prepared.

A DNA barcode reference library of Ponto-Caspian amphipods: towards improved invasion management and biodiversity conservation

Projects leader: dr. Asta Audzijonytė

Postdoc researcher: dr. Denis Copilaş-Ciocianu

Postdoc duration: 2020-08-05 – 2022-08-04

The rise of next-generation sequencing and DNA metabarcoding has revolutionized aquatic biodiversity research. Next-generation monitoring is cost-efficient and offers unparalleled accuracy and objectivity in species identification, proving to be an effective tool for biodiversity conservation as well as management of biological invasions. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of metabarcoding relies on species DNA barcode reference databases, which are often incomplete, even in well-studied areas. In this project, we aim to investigate the Ponto-Caspian assemblage of amphipod crustaceans, producing the first DNA barcode database of this group and providing an updated overview of their diversity. This diverse evolutionary radiation contains one of the most successful aquatic invaders currently spreading throughout Europe and North America, negatively impacting local biodiversity. What is more, most Ponto-Caspian amphipods are actually poorly known enigmatic species restricted to the Black and Caspian seas and surrounding areas, which are under high anthropogenic impact. Despite these pressing issues, these amphipods have been little studied from a molecular perspective, thus their taxonomy is plagued by ambiguous species descriptions and questionable higher classification, and some of the invasive species have even been constantly misidentified for decades. Thus, an accurate and taxa rich DNA barcode database would significantly improve species identifications via metabarcoding, leading towards efficient monitoring of invasive Ponto-Caspian amphipod species, and improved conservation measures for the numerous endemics. An overview of the taxonomic, ecological and morphological diversity would aid in formalizing the systematics of this group and potentially reveal important evolutionary patterns. As such, the results of this project will provide a foundation for future ecological, evolutionary and systematic studies, and will also have applied value in the management of biological invasions and conservation of native biodiversity.

This project has received funding from European Social Fund (project No 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-19-0149) under grant agreement with the Research Council of Lithuania (LMTLT).

Species identification of the biting midges and black flies involved in transmission of haemosporidian parasites

Projects leader: prof. dr. (HP) Sigitas Podėnas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Rita Žiegytė

Postdoc duration: 2017–2020

Although worldwide species diversity of blood-sucking biting midges (Culicoides) and black flies (Simuliidae) is immense (approximately 3000 species), only several tens of species are known to be involved in transmission of haemosporidian infections.The above-mentioned insects are still among the least studied vectors of haemosporidian parasites.

We presume that not yet known species of blood-sucking biting midges and black flies are also involved in transmission of haemosporidian parasites. We will determine the ornithophilic species of these dipterans and carry out experimental studies into the sporogony of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites.

The chief aim of this project is to acquire skills in the identification of ornithophilic species of biting midges and black flies in which the sporogony of haemosporidian parasites occurs. Tasks of the current project are as follows: 1. To determine the ornithophilic species of biting midges and black flies and their infection with Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites using molecular research methods 2. Having mastered methodologies for species identification of blood-sucking insects, to determine the ornithophilic species of biting midges and black flies. 3. To carry out experimental investigations of the sporogony of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon parasites in the identified species of biting midges and black flies.

Studies will be carried out using traditional, taxonomic and molecular research methods (microscopy, PCR, sequencing, phylogenetic analysis). Results of this study are expected to broaden the knowledge of vector species of the infections caused by parasites of Haemoproteus and Leucocytozoon genera and their transmission in nature. For the first time, the study into the involvement of black flies (Simuliidae), one of the most economically harmful species, in transmission of parasites of the genus Leucocytozoon in Lithuania will be carried out. The obtained findings will help predict bird diseases. Also, they will deepen the understanding of the epidemiology of blood-sucking insect-borne diseases and will undoubtedly play a significant role in developing preventive measures aimed to control the spread of new infections in Lithuania and in neighbouring European countries.

The influence of Solar cycles on vegetation dynamics of the Quaternary Interglacials

Projects leader: dr. Miglė Stančikaitė

Postdoc researcher: dr. Andrej Spiridonov

Postdoc duration: 2017–2020

The project encompasses the detection, and the statistical testing of the influence on the Solar cycles and the oceanic oscillations on the land and freshwater plant community dynamics. The high-precision accurately dated paleobotanical micro- and macro- fossil data from the eastern Baltic region will be compared with the proxies of the Solar activity (10Be, and 14C) time series using advanced techniques of the spectral analysis, namely continuous wavelet transforms, Lomb-Scargle periodograms and other spectral analysis techniques implemented in the R computational environment. The understanding of the natural climate change mechanisms and their effects on the dynamics of plant communities, as one of the most important parts of the modern biota, is necessary in order to develop realistic climate change models, identifying natural and human influenced climate changes. The former information is needed in order to minimize the human impact on our planet and ensure the sustainable development of the humanity.

Molecular characterization of avian haemosporidian parasites and determination of their vectors

Projects leader: habil. dr. Gediminas Valkiūnas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Carolina Romeiro Fernandes Chagas

Postdoc duration: 2017–2020

The project addresses diagnostics and transmission of cosmopolitan avian haemosporidian infections. These blood parasites cause health problems both in birds and dipteran insects, but remain insufficiently investigated. Importantly, some haemosporidian species (for example, malaria parasite Plasmodium relictum pGRW4) are actively transmitted in tropical countries including Brazil, but also emerging to Europe. That indicats global significance of avian haemosporidian research. Postdoc researcher is experienced in PCR-based diagnostics of haemosporidians using cytochrome b (cytb) partial sequences, but not in application of other genes in molecular characterization of the parasites as well as in taxonomy and vector research. Qualification of the researcher would be markedly improved on these topics. The new knowledge will also contribute to development of avian parasitology in Lithuania and Europe. The project is a unique opportunity to bring a Brazilian young researcher to the Lithuanian laboratory, which is well-recognizable in studies of wildlife haemosporidians.