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Old 10/15/2017, 11:56 PM   #1
Clint_OakleyPhD
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University coral reef lab building an Aiptasia farm

Hi everyone, Iím a marine biologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and Iím hoping for some help with our upcoming projects. We study the effects of climate change on corals and the coral symbiosis, and to do that we use everyoneís favorite tank pest, Aiptasia. They are a great model organism for experiments because theyíre small, tough, grow quickly, and are easily handled in the lab. For some upcoming experiments, though, we need a lot of Aiptasia. Thousands. I know there are some expert Aiptasia farmers on ReefCentral (intentionally or not!) and Iím looking for advice for building a world-class Aiptasia farm.

Here is our current, very basic tank setup: Tanks (~40L/10G each) are half-filled with natural filtered seawater, with no substrate, live rock or other livestock. Each has a small heater (25C/77F) and powerhead with acrylic lids (not pictured) to reduce evaporation. Lighting is provided by standard T12 fluorescents, and some tanks have additional exposure to natural sunlight. There is no filtration, but the water is changed (50-75%) weekly. The anemones are fed 2-3 times per week with live brine shrimp. I am aware that they're pretty ugly and bare-bones, but it's all about function over form!

One example setup:


Interior shots:



Why now?
We will soon be moving our laboratory to a brand new building, and we have the opportunity and some funding to build a new, larger, Aiptasia farm system. We need to be able to grow as many Aiptasia as we can, as quickly as we can. We need your ideas to make it better.

Our requirements:
- We canít take any new Aiptasia from elsewhere. Ours are all genetic clones descended from one individual Aiptasia years ago, and to make sure the experiments are consistent we are only using this particular strain. Sorry, no donations!
- No substrate, live rock or other livestock. We canít introduce any hitchhikers into the tanks for experimental reasons, and itís important that it be bare glass so we can easily remove Aiptasia with a razor blade for experiments.
- Small tanks, easily cleaned, with multiple separate systems for backup. We may be able to plumb multiple tanks to the same sump, but we'll still need multiple parallel tank systems.
- We use natural seawater for cost reasons.
- Simpler is better.

Our current problems:
- Biofilm algae! It grows very quickly, smothers the smallest Aiptasia and, if left uncleaned, seems to become toxic to the adult Aiptasia.
- Too much time scrubbing tanks!
- No filtration! There is no nutrient export from these tanks, only water changes, leading us to the next problem:
- Too much seawater usage! Itís a lot of work for us to collect filtered seawater, so any ways to reduce the need for water changes would be helpful.

Any ideas?
Any advice would be appreciated. I have experience with home coral tanks in the past, but the needs of this system are pretty different. Iím currently exploring adding GFO and some artificial liverock substitutes (e.g. Seachem Matrix) in a canister/hang on filter to reduce the nutrient load between water changes. A protein skimmer might be helpful but it's difficult with these small tanks.

I'll post any updates. Iím also happy to answer any questions about the work we do and how weíll be using the Aiptasia!


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Old 10/16/2017, 01:31 AM   #2
Ryan Darilek
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Going to need either a refugium or snails for the algae... But I believe you couldn't go with the snails due to experiments?

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Old 10/16/2017, 02:33 AM   #3
Clint_OakleyPhD
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Originally Posted by Ryan Darilek View Post
Going to need either a refugium or snails for the algae... But I believe you couldn't go with the snails due to experiments?

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Yes, I thought about snails. In theory we could probably incorporate them as an exception to the "no livestock" rule, but I haven't been able to find any suitable ones in New Zealand. The amount of livestock available is pretty limited to what you can find in the US/EU. I'm keeping a lookout for them, though!


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Old 10/16/2017, 07:56 AM   #4
AquaManiak
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Interesting project!

To control the nutrients you could install a skimmer, then you won't have to do these huge water changes anymore. Personally I haven't changed water for around 2 years, haven't had major problems apart from a aiptasia outbreak


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Old 10/16/2017, 08:56 AM   #5
LobsterOfJustice
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Cut down on the light to reduce algae. In my experience aiptasia are fine with little to no light if they are fed. I have tons in my sump which has no light over it, just getting ambient light from room windows. Not enough light to grow algae, but full of aiptasia!


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Old 10/16/2017, 09:10 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Clint_OakleyPhD View Post
Yes, I thought about snails. In theory we could probably incorporate them as an exception to the "no livestock" rule, but I haven't been able to find any suitable ones in New Zealand. The amount of livestock available is pretty limited to what you can find in the US/EU. I'm keeping a lookout for them, though!
If you go with snails be sure to quaranteen for a while. There is always a possibility of an aiptasia coming in on a snail (not to mention a collection of other hitchhikers). Not something I would worry about as a hobbiest but if I was worried about protecting a genetic line that may change things.

Curious, have you tried blending them? I have heard that something berugia farmers do is take a half dozen in a cup and use a stick blender to make a slurry and dump it in a tank and have hundreds of babies in a short time.

I know you said glass only but it may be worthwile to try putting something like eggcrate (plastic lighting diffuser) in to help them settle. you can still easily seprate them from the eggcrate with an exacto knife.


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Old 10/16/2017, 12:55 PM   #7
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Here's my 2 cents:

For the algae on the glass use a BIG UV sterilizer. When you wipe it off the glass a lot of it is in suspension and will resettle in hours. Use paper towels to wipe the algae off, just use once then throw it away to reduce algae going back in suspension.

Experiement with dosing ammonia to feed the aiptasia to increase thier growth rate. (Check the research, anemonies need the ammonia from fish.) I would not reduce lighting and might even increase it, reasoning is if the aiptasia increase their growth they'll compete better against the algae.

Cut back on water changes. 10% weekly should be more than adequite. You'll see changes in the nutrients and ecosystem initially but you're basicly shifting your system to use your aiptasia for filtering.

Keep us updated.


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Old 10/16/2017, 01:29 PM   #8
mcgyvr
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water changes? pfft...
why aiptasia seem to thrive in dirty water..
Don't do water changes...let your nitrates get to 100+ and watch them grow to 4-6inches long or more all over the place..

I wonder why aiptasia vs the more commonly studied "reef building" corals that are being impacted by climate change? Do you think the research will translate to SPS,etc.. corals that are the ones really being impacted?

These suckers were easily over 6" long in my old tank..


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Old 10/16/2017, 02:18 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Clint_OakleyPhD View Post
Hi everyone, Iím a marine biologist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and Iím hoping for some help with our upcoming projects. We study the effects of climate change on corals and the coral symbiosis, and to do that we use everyoneís favorite tank pest, Aiptasia. They are a great model organism for experiments because theyíre small, tough, grow quickly, and are easily handled in the lab. For some upcoming experiments, though, we need a lot of Aiptasia. Thousands. I know there are some expert Aiptasia farmers on ReefCentral (intentionally or not!) and Iím looking for advice for building a world-class Aiptasia farm.



Here is our current, very basic tank setup: Tanks (~40L/10G each) are half-filled with natural filtered seawater, with no substrate, live rock or other livestock. Each has a small heater (25C/77F) and powerhead with acrylic lids (not pictured) to reduce evaporation. Lighting is provided by standard T12 fluorescents, and some tanks have additional exposure to natural sunlight. There is no filtration, but the water is changed (50-75%) weekly. The anemones are fed 2-3 times per week with live brine shrimp. I am aware that they're pretty ugly and bare-bones, but it's all about function over form!



One example setup:





Interior shots:







Why now?

We will soon be moving our laboratory to a brand new building, and we have the opportunity and some funding to build a new, larger, Aiptasia farm system. We need to be able to grow as many Aiptasia as we can, as quickly as we can. We need your ideas to make it better.



Our requirements:

-We canít take any new Aiptasia from elsewhere. Ours are all genetic clones descended from one individual Aiptasia years ago, and to make sure the experiments are consistent we are only using this particular strain. Sorry, no donations!

-No substrate, live rock or other livestock. We canít introduce any hitchhikers into the tanks for experimental reasons, and itís important that it be bare glass so we can easily remove Aiptasia with a razor blade for experiments.

-Small tanks, easily cleaned, with multiple separate systems for backup. We may be able to plumb multiple tanks to the same sump, but we'll still need multiple parallel tank systems.

-We use natural seawater for cost reasons.

- Simpler is better.



Our current problems:

-Biofilm algae! It grows very quickly, smothers the smallest Aiptasia and, if left uncleaned, seems to become toxic to the adult Aiptasia.

-Too much time scrubbing tanks!

-No filtration! There is no nutrient export from these tanks, only water changes, leading us to the next problem:

-Too much seawater usage! Itís a lot of work for us to collect filtered seawater, so any ways to reduce the need for water changes would be helpful.



Any ideas?

Any advice would be appreciated. I have experience with home coral tanks in the past, but the needs of this system are pretty different. Iím currently exploring adding GFO and some artificial liverock substitutes (e.g. Seachem Matrix) in a canister/hang on filter to reduce the nutrient load between water changes. A protein skimmer might be helpful but it's difficult with these small tanks.



I'll post any updates. Iím also happy to answer any questions about the work we do and how weíll be using the Aiptasia!


Can you not use synthetic aquarium salt and filtered RO/DI water? That could reduce the problem a lot there.

Grazers to graze on the algae.

A refugium to grow lots of algae in a controlled tank away from the breeding tanks.


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Old 10/16/2017, 05:51 PM   #10
Clint_OakleyPhD
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Thanks for all the responses.

Quote:
Originally Posted by AquaManiak View Post
Interesting project!

To control the nutrients you could install a skimmer, then you won't have to do these huge water changes anymore. Personally I haven't changed water for around 2 years, haven't had major problems apart from a aiptasia outbreak
Yes, a skimmer is definitely on the list (and a UV sterilizer) if we can plumb a large sump to all the tanks. I haven't seen our new lab space yet so I don't yet know how we can run the drain/return lines.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LobsterOfJustice View Post
Cut down on the light to reduce algae. In my experience aiptasia are fine with little to no light if they are fed. I have tons in my sump which has no light over it, just getting ambient light from room windows. Not enough light to grow algae, but full of aiptasia!

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
We've tried a lot of different light levels. Some tanks only have a couple of 24" T12s over them, so the light is only about 30umol (very low). The Aiptasia are ok with it, but we have some algae that also appears to appreciate the low light as well and grows in very thick mats. I think whether we use high or low light eventually some algae that likes high or low light will begin to make itself at home.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jayball View Post
If you go with snails be sure to quaranteen for a while. There is always a possibility of an aiptasia coming in on a snail (not to mention a collection of other hitchhikers). Not something I would worry about as a hobbiest but if I was worried about protecting a genetic line that may change things.

Curious, have you tried blending them? I have heard that something berugia farmers do is take a half dozen in a cup and use a stick blender to make a slurry and dump it in a tank and have hundreds of babies in a short time.

I know you said glass only but it may be worthwile to try putting something like eggcrate (plastic lighting diffuser) in to help them settle. you can still easily seprate them from the eggcrate with an exacto knife.
If I can ever find some snails I will definitely quarantine them first. Shops here in NZ don't seem to import snails, either it's not financially worth it or it's too difficult to get snails past Biosecurity. We have not tried blending the anemones, but it might be worth a shot. We have noticed "blooms" of Aiptasia before as well! Eggcrate is an option. In some tanks we have little glass "walls" to increase the available surface area, same concept.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Timfish View Post
Here's my 2 cents:

For the algae on the glass use a BIG UV sterilizer. When you wipe it off the glass a lot of it is in suspension and will resettle in hours. Use paper towels to wipe the algae off, just use once then throw it away to reduce algae going back in suspension.

Experiement with dosing ammonia to feed the aiptasia to increase thier growth rate. (Check the research, anemonies need the ammonia from fish.) I would not reduce lighting and might even increase it, reasoning is if the aiptasia increase their growth they'll compete better against the algae.

Cut back on water changes. 10% weekly should be more than adequite. You'll see changes in the nutrients and ecosystem initially but you're basicly shifting your system to use your aiptasia for filtering.

Keep us updated.
The UV sterilizer is a very good idea, and will likely be incorporated if we can get a sump set up. I'm guessing the anemones are already well-supplied with the ammonia from the frequent feeding. I agree, 10% water changes is a good goal if we can get the rest of the filtration up to par.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mcgyvr View Post
water changes? pfft...
why aiptasia seem to thrive in dirty water..
Don't do water changes...let your nitrates get to 100+ and watch them grow to 4-6inches long or more all over the place..

I wonder why aiptasia vs the more commonly studied "reef building" corals that are being impacted by climate change? Do you think the research will translate to SPS,etc.. corals that are the ones really being impacted?

These suckers were easily over 6" long in my old tank..
Good question! Aiptasia are our lab mouse, so to speak. The main reason is that they are much easier to keep alive, grow, and manipulate in the lab than corals. Many experiments require grinding up the anemones, and we would go through coral much faster than we could grow it. Aiptasia have the same symbiosis with dinoflagellate algae as corals. There are many (hundreds) of different strains/species of symbiotic dinoflagellates, and some may be more resistant to climate change than others. Many of our experiments involve chemical treatments to completely "bleach" the anemones and then re-infect them with different types of symbiotic algae; that's immensely difficult to do with corals. It's difficult to bleach corals 100%, as the typical thermal bleaching you see on a reef, even when severe, still leaves behind a few (<5%) algae cells left. We can do it with Aiptasia because they're tough enough to handle the chemical bleaching and can exist without algae entirely by feeding if necessary, whereas corals tend to die. Aiptasia don't calcify, obviously, so they aren't suitable for calcification experiments. Of course, conclusions drawn from experiments with Aiptasia have to be tested in the field with corals!


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Old 10/17/2017, 11:55 PM   #11
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A large UV sterilizer should also kill any small aptasia ( juveniles) that go through it. I would carefully test any possible UV set up to make sure your not killing unsettled polyps. Probably a smaller UV at fairly high flow.
Jave you considered dosing hydrogen peroxide? It will kill algae and not hurt aptasia from what I have seen.
I would set up some sort of rack with multiple glass or egg crate to increase the surface area substantially.
I would also experiment with the type and amounts of food your feeding, possibly cutting back.


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Old 10/18/2017, 12:52 AM   #12
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This is very interesting stuff. I actually have a degree in evolutionary biology. I'm still learning things to do with oceanic biology. You might consider lowering the lighting to a lower wavelength, possibly not killing as many as an experiment at least.


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Old 11/02/2017, 02:32 PM   #13
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what about getting more water movement in there? it should help keep the biofilm algae from getting a foothold. the aiptasia will have no problems with some extra flow.

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Old 11/02/2017, 08:19 PM   #14
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From my experience...Grow your aiptasia in the dark. They're capable of photosynthesizing, but they don't need to... especially in a nutrient-rich environment. By eliminating light, you eliminate the advantage the algae have over the aiptasia.
Skip the UV sterilizer, as it'll kill any cast-off juvenile aiptasia. Instead, increase water movement within the tank. Give the aiptasia more varied surfaces to colonize, as well. Use plexiglass or acrylic to create surfaces on 45-degree and 30-degree angles, and ensure that water stirs on both sides of each surface. Aiptasia will colonize upside down as readily as upright.
Stress the system a bit by allowing temperature to fluctuate from low to high and back, but remain within temperate to tropical range. Aiptasia multiply as readily in response to environmental instabilite as they do to a food surplus.


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Old 11/08/2017, 01:25 PM   #15
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Aiptasia outbreaks have destroyed some of my best garden / zoa tanks. We're talking about thousands of dollars worth of rare zoas / palys wiped out. Because I often keep these tanks in high protein water columns to speed up growth once Aiptasia gets in there growth is explosive. I've learned the hard way that high tech solutions like burning them with lasers doesn't work. You need direct chemical warfare to have the best chance of killing them. Vinegar in a insulin syringe seems just as effective as anything.
Throw some beef hart or any type of dense meat in a blender with water and mulch it until cloudy. Pour this periodically in the tank and aiptasia along with larger filter feeders like green implosion palys will explode in growth.


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Old 11/09/2017, 07:41 AM   #16
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LeRoy Hadley at GARF once used acrylic race ways covered with Aptasia as nutrient removal mechanism.

Clint,
Would the mechanical layout of raceways better serve your operation? Have you considered Xenia as a case study candidate? It is very prolific.


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Old 11/09/2017, 04:44 PM   #17
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Not a solution to any of your problems but potentially a new one. If you are looking to culture only one strand of aiptasia then it's not a good idea to use natural seawater because you don't know what you're introducing with each water change. I'm amazed at the things that grow out of seemingly nothing. The only way to guarantee you're not introducing something that undermines your experiment is to establish a truly closed system with no water changes or minimal ones using only synthetic salt.


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Old 11/17/2017, 01:49 AM   #18
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Have you tried electrocuting them?

There was a thing a few years back in the hobby called a manjo wand or something like that. Basically it was a stick with a wire on the end that was electrified.

You would put the wire/stick in the nem and it was supposed to kill them.

Problem was a few weeks later reefers would see hundreds of new ones.

It was a great way to turn 5 nems into 100 nems inside 2 weeks IME.

What about carbon dosing? If you have biological filtration and a skimmer, you could carbon dose to cut costs and eleminate your need for water changes. You would just have to replace whatever elements the aiptasia needed for growth back into the water.

HTH


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Old 11/17/2017, 10:37 AM   #19
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I think the best strategy is to actively not want them. That way, they'll grow like crazy.


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Old 11/19/2017, 09:50 AM   #20
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I would look at algae turf scrubbers to reduce algae. They are more efficient at reducing nutrients than a macro algae refugium and you wouldn't need to add anything new to the tank, just light the scrubber screen and in time the algae develops.

As for aiptasia multiplication you could poke them with a screwdriving or similar. Annoying the adults sometimes makes them bud and commercial aiptasia cures like aiptasia X often destroy the main anemone but leave plenty of tissue around the base for more to grow. By poking them with something you get the same result.


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Old 11/20/2017, 12:28 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LobsterOfJustice View Post
Cut down on the light to reduce algae. In my experience aiptasia are fine with little to no light if they are fed. I have tons in my sump which has no light over it, just getting ambient light from room windows. Not enough light to grow algae, but full of aiptasia!


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When I volunteered as an aquarist at Long Beach Aquarium I would clean many of the exhibits in my section and many of them had TONS of aptasia in the overflows where there was no light. They were plain white but thriving in there from the constant food source. Some of the largest ones I have ever seen (around 2 inches diameter on the disc mouth) as well.


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Old 11/20/2017, 03:25 AM   #22
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I agree you really should not be using sea water at the risk of contaminating your stock. You should not need to do water changes that often, as they love dirty water. i also agree they do not need light to grow. I do not have any in my display or sump thanks to a file fish and peppermint shrimp, however I have plenty in my unlight overflow. Yes they do prefer light but clearydo not need it. They are about the easiest species to propagate. Use a razor blade to cut them off just above the foot then cut the main piece down the center starting at the mouth. Eat them settle and you will have 3. For food you might try nitrate directly.


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Old 11/20/2017, 06:32 AM   #23
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I've heard the reproductive method changes in different light situations, although don't know if that's true. In dark areas budding is the preferred method which explains why you see so many pop up in a short amount of time in overflows and why they appear more randomly in the display.
So perhaps experiment with areas of light and dark.


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