An automated aquatic rack system for rearing marine invertebrates

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Background: One hundred years ago, marine organisms were the dominant systems for the study of developmental biology. The challenges in rearing these organisms outside of a marine setting ultimately contributed to a shift towards work on a smaller number of so-called model systems. Those animals are typically non-marine organisms with advantages afforded by short life cycles, high fecundity, and relative ease in laboratory culture. However, a full understanding of biodiversity, evolution, and anthropogenic effects on biological systems requires a broader survey of development in the animal kingdom. To this day, marine organisms remain relatively understudied, particularly the members of the Lophotrochozoa (Spiralia), which include well over one third of the metazoan phyla (such as the annelids, mollusks, flatworms) and exhibit a tremendous diversity of body plans and developmental modes. To facilitate studies of this group, we have previously described the development and culture of one lophotrochozoan representative, the slipper snail Crepidula atrasolea, which is easy to rear in recirculating marine aquaria. Lab-based culture and rearing of larger populations of animals remain a general challenge for many marine organisms, particularly for inland laboratories. Results: Here, we describe the development of an automated marine aquatic rack system for the high-density culture of marine species, which is particularly well suited for rearing filter-feeding animals. Based on existing freshwater recirculating aquatic rack systems, our system is specific to the needs of marine organisms and incorporates robust filtration measures to eliminate wastes, reducing the need for regular water changes. In addition, this system incorporates sensors and associated equipment for automated assessment and adjustment of water quality. An automated feeding system permits precise delivery of liquid food (e.g., phytoplankton) throughout the day, mimicking real-life feeding conditions that contribute to increased growth rates and fecundity. Conclusion: This automated system makes laboratory culture of marine animals feasible for both large and small research groups, significantly reducing the time, labor, and overall costs needed to rear these organisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number46
JournalBMC biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 4 2020


  • Aquaculture
  • Aquarium
  • Automated feeding
  • Automation
  • Crepidula
  • Mariculture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Structural Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Plant Science
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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