Zostera marina is a species of seagrass commonly found in the shallow waters of Cape Cod. Seagrass provides many benefits to the marine environment and beyond, including maintaining water quality, stabilizing the coastline, and providing food and habitat for other marine organisms. However, seagrass and its associated benefits are rapidly disappearing from the Cape Cod coast. In the last fifty years, seagrass abundance has dramatically declined thanks to the reduction in water quality along the Cape Cod coast caused by wastewater inputs and rising seawater temperatures.

Many restoration efforts have been attempted, but the success rate of these efforts is low, prompting the need for new approaches to seagrass restoration.

Funded by Oceankind, the lab of MBL Associate Scientist Mirta Teichberg, in collaboration with MBL Research Scientist Elena Lopez Peredo, aims to enhance seagrass recovery through a new approach to restoration with the BioSeed project.

Restoration efforts are generally more successful when they are done on a large scale, however seagrass seed availability is often a limiting factor for such efforts. The goal of the BioSeed project is to advance biotechnology for the enhancement of seagrass restoration, specifically by developing methods to increase the availability of seeds for seagrass restoration projects.

Seagrasses are (in)famous for their unpredictable flowering behavior, which does not allow for systematic harvesting of seagrass seeds. Teichberg and Peredo aim to study which genes are linked to seagrass flowering and, by doing so, develop a genetic marker to predict which seagrass meadows will flower. The development of this genetic marker will aid the efforts to collect seeds for restoration.

The MBL team also aims to increase the production of seeds for restoration by developing a somatic embryogenesis protocol for seagrass. Somatic embryogenesis consists of inducing the development of a callus from starting material (in this case seagrass seeds) that can be divided and differentiated into many seeds. A successful protocol would enable the production of multiple seagrass seeds from only a single seed and help increase the production of seeds to scale up restoration efforts, thus increasing their chance of success.

These goals will help give seagrasses on Cape Cod, and around the world, a better chance at recovery.