Dr. Neoh Seong Lee and Team Re-create Aquatic Ecosystem in the Lab


Inspired by the amazing self-sustainability of the natural ecosystem, Dr. Neoh Seong Lee from China-ASEAN College of Marine Sciences, Xiamen University Malaysia launched Project Refugium, an on-going aquaculture-based project to re-create an aquatic ecosystem in the laboratory while maintaining its form and functionality.

Project Refugium’s goal is to mimic the functionality of a particular natural aquatic microcosm. Our ultimate aim is to have an aesthetically pleasing and self-sustaining larvae rearing system— just like in nature,” said Dr. Neoh.

Based on the results of the ongoing project, Dr Neoh and his team are very pleased to see that this recreated ecosystem turns out to be self-cleaning and capable of supplying all the zooplankton needed for the larvae’s growth, thus reducing the time-consuming and labour-intensive work of cleaning tanks.

“With this project, we may eventually have a system that eliminates or significantly reduces the time and cost required for these two activities,” he said.

About 15 students have been involved in this effort, taking part in recreating the microcosm and then putting it to the test to see if it can support larvae through the juvenile stage with minimum human involvement.

Dr. Neoh devised ways for students to obtain hands-on experience without the use of a lab during the pandemic, during which they have learnt aquarium systems, aquascaping, plankton sampling, fish rearing, live feed culture, microscopy, etc. 

"You’ll be surprised at the number of experiments you can perform just by using tools from your kitchen, said Dr. Neoh. 

Students attempting the experiment 

Currently, Dr. Neoh is also working on two more projects for students to get involved in: The first one is an open-source methodology for applied research that allows students of different disciplines and the general public to contribute ideas to real-world scientific problems, and the second one is a student leadership programme with students leading their own project and demonstrating their leadership skills.

“I never micro-manage and allow my students great freedom to explore and to make mistakes,” said Dr. Neoh, who believes that the best work is done in a stress-free environment. For students who are interested in joining Dr. Neoh Seong Lees group, please contact him via email at seonglee.neoh@xmu.edu.my.

Click here to download the introductory video of Project Refugium.

(Contributed by China-ASEAN College of Marine Sciences, Liu Zihan, Chen Junming)

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