Biodiscovery in Irish deep-sea waters

‌The 5-year (2016-2021) Science Foundation Ireland Investigators programme project Exploiting and conserving deep-sea genetic resources focuses on biodiscovery research in Irish deep-sea Cnidaria and Porifera.  In the video below, our PhD student, Sam Afoullouss, explains why this is important research.

 Our project aims to:

  • find new bioactive natural products from deep-sea corals and sponges in Irish offshore waters
  • develop informed bioprospecting approaches to maximise the chance of finding these compounds in hard to sample environments such as the deep sea
  • inform conservation planning in relation to biodiscovery hotspots

The deep sea is particularly interesting because the animals that live there do so under extreme conditions – no light, high pressure – and so may have interesting chemistry to cope with such a harsh environment.  Sponges and corals are at the forefront of biodiscovery research: they yield more natural products than any other phyla‌.  You can see some of the chemistry we've found in the posters below.  Click on the links to download  a larger version of each poster.

Paragorgia Poster Zoanthid Poster Sponge Screening Poster

From analysing previously published information, we already know that some corals and sponge species yield more natural products than others.   We’re building mathematical models to predict the likelihood of any given species yielding a novel natural product, and we’ll build species distribution maps (also using mathematical models) of corals and sponges on the deep-sea floor, so that we know where the biodiscovery hotspots are.


The project comprises four interlinking workpackages:

 Work package flow chart


Project Team

 PI: Prof Louise Allcock, NUI Galway
Co-PI: Prof Mark Johnson, NUI Galway
Postdoctoral Researcher: Ryan Young, NUI Galway
Postdoctoral Researcher: Claire Laguionie-Marchais, NUI Galway
PhD student: Sam Afoullous, NUI Galway (supervisors Prof Louise Allcock & Prof Olivier Thomas)
MSc student: Rob Nesbitt (supervisors Prof Louise Allcock & Prof Olivier Thomas)

International CollaborationProf Bill Baker, USF
Our collaboration with USF extends beyond Bill Baker's lab to many of the PIs who run screening facilities there.  In 2018 we held a joint mini-symposium at USF: some of our collaborators there are shown below.



This project is supported by  Science Foundation Ireland and the Marine Institute under the Investigators Programme Grant Number SFI/15/IA/3100 and is co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020.

Science Foundation IrelandMarine Institute LogoERDF logo

Image Copyright

Deep-sea images taken by NUI Galway scientists during cruise CE18012 funded by the Marine Institute and Science Foundation Ireland.  Images remain the property of the Marine Institute.