Insights into pathogenicity of leucocytozoonoses

Projects leader: habil. dr. Gediminas Valkiūnas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Carolina R. F. Chagas

Postdoc duration: 2021.06.15 – 2023.06.14

Postdoc No.: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-23-0010


The effect of increasing cold on the dynamics of polyamine biosynthesis in winter oilseed rape and the scope its control

Projects leader: dr. Petras Prakas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Elžbieta Jankovska-Bortkevič

Postdoc duration: 2021.06.15–2023.07.14

Postdoc No.: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-23-0166

Funding source: the activity is funded under Measure 09.3.3-LMT-K-712 “Development of Scientific Competences of Scientists, other Researchers and Students through Practical Research Activities” (Funding instrument – European Social Fund).

Adverse environmental factors have a significant impact on the growth and productivity of economically important agricultural crops. One of the main challenges of modern agriculture is to improve plant productivity in adverse environmental conditions, and one of the most important areas of science is research of the mechanism of plant stress and its management. In order to reduce the impact of adverse environmental conditions, much attention is paid to biologically active substances. Polyamines have been shown to be involved in plant response to environmental influences. Studies have shown that intensified polyamine biosynthesis in transgenic plants and exogenous effects of polyamines increase plant tolerance to stress; mutations in polyamine biosynthesis and inhibition of their biosynthesis result in less tolerance to abiotic stress. In this fundamental and applied research, the use of molecular methods will increase the understanding of specific polyamine mechanisms and signal transduction pathways under optimal and stressful conditions in winter oilseed rape and will provide information for the development of biotechnological solutions. In parallel, an analysis of abiotic stress markers and an assessment of biometric characteristics and plant survival will be performed. The results of the study will complement the scientific knowledge about the plant's response to the cold. Based on the results obtained, science-based recommendations will be developed.

Project publicity

Molecular diagnosis of Sarcocystis species from sheep and goat

Projects leader: (HP) dr. Dalius Butkauskas

Postdoc researcher: dr. Alina Marandykina-Prakienė

Postdoc duration: 2021.07.15 – 2023.07.14

Postdoc No.: 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-23-0064

Funding source: the activity is funded under Measure 09.3.3-LMT-K-712 “Development of Scientific Competences of Scientists, other Researchers and Students through Practical Research Activities” (Funding instrument – European Social Fund).

Representatives of the genus Sarcocystis (Apicomplexa: Sarcocystidae) are protozaons widespread globally in mammals, birds and reptiles. These parasites are characterized by a two-host, prey-predator life cycle. Sarcocysts are formed in muscles and CNS of the intermediate host, while sporocysts develop in small intestine of the definitive host. Some of Sarcocystis spp. found in sheep and goats are pathogenic. Due to the intense Sarcocystis infection wool and meat production is reduced and industry lose millions annually. The Sarcocystis species diversity in these animals has not been fully elucidated. Typically, Sarcocystis species are identified by isolating sarcocysts from muscle and characterizing them genetically. However, isolation of sarcocysts is not effective in epidemiological studies. In this work, diaphragm, oesophageal, and heart samples from sheep and goats will be examined. The objective of the study is to develop a rapid and efficient molecular methodology for the identification of Sarcocystis species in sheep meat and goat meat by muscle digestion, PCR and sequencing. The distribution, genetic variability and morphological characteristics of the detected species will also be assessed. Due to the lack of studies on Sarcocystis in goats, new Sarcocystis species are expected to be described in these hosts. The molecular diagnostic methodology, developed and optimized in this work, after modification will be applicable in other economically important animals.

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).