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Ascidian Workshop

Last modified March 31, 2010

Ascidians are members of the subphylum Urochordata, a subset of the Phylum Chordata. Chordate features - notochord, nerve cord and post-anal tail - are present only in the larval stage. When the larva, or tadpole settles, it absorbs these parts and metamorphoses into a tail-less, spine-less sessile adult. Ascidians are found all over the world, usually in shallow water with salinities over 2.5%. While members of the Thaliacea and Larvacea swim freely like plankton, sea squirts are sessile animals attached to substratum such as rocks and shells.

What Event
When May 17, 2010 08:00 AM to
May 21, 2010 05:00 PM
Where St. John's Island Marine Laboratory, Tropical Marine Science Institute, National University of Singapore
Contact Name Ms. Jun Lin
Contact Email
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Sea squirts are valuable because of their unique evolutionary position. They are studied in much detail to provide insight into the link between chordates and ancestral non-chordate deuterostomes, as well as the origination of vertebrates from simple chordates. cDNA libraries have been developed and available online to support further analysis of gene expression, which is expected to provide information about complex developmental processes and regulation of genes in vertebrates. In the 1990s, ascidians were perhaps best recognized for their contribution as sources of novel anti-cancer compounds and other potent marine natural products. In recent years, with increasing problem of invasive organisms, ascidians have received new attention as they are fairly common in both tropical and temperate fouling communities. Various Ascidiacea are also used as food. Halocynthia roretzi is cultivated in Japan (hoya, maboya) and Korea (meongge).

In Southeast Asian coastal waters, sea squirts or ascidians (Chordata: Ascidiacea) form a significant component of the sessile fauna in many marine habitats. However, very few studies have been conducted and most of these are in the form of reports from reef communities or colorful photographs of unidentified specimens. This has been largely due to the lack of local expertise in the identification of ascidians. The paucity of information on this significant group poses problems for biodiversity conservation and management, as well as biosecurity issues relating to invasive species.


The goals of the workshop are to provide participants technical training on how to identify ascidians and hands-on skills in handling ascidians for research purposes. The course content places large emphasis on hands-on laboratory sessions. Some field trips have been organized to augment the laboratory work but these are intended primarily to augment discussions on ecology and habitats. The workshop program will focus on:

  1. Skills training to enable participants to begin to identify ascidians. Course contents will include course notes with keys to major genera, introduction to the taxonomy and biology of the major groups of ascidians, and hands-on dissection sessions to provide participants practical skills in recognizing and using taxonomic characters for identification.
  2. Introductory biology, with focus on reproductive biology, ecology and invasive species. Basic skills training in handling of gametes and larvae will also be conducted for participants who may have interest to pursue research in developmental biology.


The full workshop programme consists of a 5-day (17th to 21st May 2010) residential course at TMSI Marine Laboratory on St John's Island covering lectures, laboratory work and field trips. Due to logistic constraints and limited accommodation on St John's Island, only 15 places are offered for full participants. Priority will be given to postgraduate students conducting research in ascidian biology and researchers undertaking taxonomic and biodiversity studies of ascidians. As space is limited, fullparticipants are strongly encouraged to attend the entire program, and participate in all laboratory sessions. Full participants may also bring their own preserved ascidians to work with during the dissections. Please contact the organizers for more information.

For participants who wish to gain an overview of ascidian biology without technical
skills training, we recommend part-time attendance. Part-time participants may only attend the lectures and observe some of the lab sessions. Part-time participants will
neither attend field trips nor take part in lab sessions. However, ample time will be given for Q&A after each lecture.

Workshop Instructors

Dr. Gretchen and Charles Lambert are both well-respected researchers in ascidian taxonomy and ecology, and coordinate an Ascidian Research Network published twice a year since 1975. Dr. Gretchen Lambert is an accomplished ascidian taxonomist, and recent works focus on introductions of non-indigenous ascidians and spicule formation in solitary and compound ascidians. Dr. Charles Lambert's major research interests lie in developmental biology of ascidians, nitrogen storage and more recently, the invasive biology of non-indigenous ascidians. The Lamberts have successfully conducted several ascidian biology training workshops around the world, the most recent held in Queen's University, Northern Ireland in August 2008 and a 10-day workshop in Panama in 2009. Recent workshops have focused on additional skills training for identifying and addressing marine invasive problems associated with ascidians.

Training Support

Training support will be provided by staff from TMSI and RMBR.

Dr. Serena Teo will be the primary coordinator for the workshop. Dr. Teo is a Senior Research Fellow at TMSI. Her research focus is marine biofouling and biosecurity. Dr. Tan Swee Hee is Lecturer in systematics and biodiversity at the Dept of Biological Sciences, and senior curator overseeing the invertebrate collections at Raffles Museum for Biodiversity Research.

Ms. Lin Juanhui is the Education Officer at TMSI. Ms Lin has many years' experience in education and fieldwork around Singapore's coastal habitats and reefs.

Information and Registration

For full participants, the deadline for registration is 15 March 2010. We will send you an email to confirm by 22 March 2010, and payment of registration fees should be made by 5 April 2010 to confirm your attendance. The organizers reserve the right to offer seats to another participant if no payment or formal confirmation has been received by the 5 April 2010. Payment method, logistics and what to bring will be sent to participants after attendance is confirmed. We regret that the maximum number of full participants we can accommodate is 15, so please contact the organizers as early as possible!

For registration and more information about the workshop, please contact the organizer ( as soon as possible. Registration fees for full participants cover lecture and bench fees, accommodation, meals, utilities, field trips and boat travel to/from St. John's island.

For part-time participants, please contact the Secretariat ( to register. Payment for confirmation of participation must be made by 10 May 2010 to enable boat travel and catering arrangements to be confirmed. Registration fees for day participants cover lecture, meals/refreshments and boat travel to/from St John's island.

Registration Fees (SGD$ net)

  • Full (Residential) Participants (non-NUS): S$800
  • ASEAN research collaborators, museums & marine institutes S$400
  • Part-time participants (non-NUS, non-residential): S$50 per day

Main Organizers

More information about this event…