The NIH/University of Miami National Resource for Aplysia Facility at the Rosenstiel of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences provides high quality, laboratory cultured Aplysia for biomedical researchers throughout the world. Originally located in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the mariculture operation moved to its present facility on Virginia Key in 1989 and has operated under a contract from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute until 1994. In May 1995, the Resource became the "National Resource for Aplysia" under a grant (RR10294) from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Advances in the understanding of the larval development of Aplysia by Kreigstein, Castellucci and Kandel (1974) and the application of large-scale mariculture techniques by Tom Capo, manager of the facility, led to mass production in 1983. The facility's move to sub-tropical Miami allowed the high yield mariculture of the animal's main food, the red alga Gracilaria, ensuring a year round supply of animals. Over the past twelve months, the facility has shipped over 25,000 animals.

The Aplysia Resource Facility's mariculture laboratory is housed in a two-story structure on Virginia Key, on Biscayne Bay, about 5 miles from downtown Miami. The lab is equiped with a state-of-the-art seawater system which can deliver three hundred liters of filtered, chilled seawater per minute.

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The Aplysia Mariculture Laboratory

Large-scale Mariculture: The Facility cultures animals under standard conditions from egg to adult. Rearing procedures have been optimized to produce large batches of siblings so that inter-individual variation is reduced for those researchers needing a consistent genetic background within cohorts.

Fertilized eggs are collected daily from breeding pairs held on the premises. Several thousand animals (siblings) are produced from each collected egg mass. Throughout their growth and development, siblings are tracked with respect to egg mass (parents' identity), as well as hatching and metamorphosis dates, thus ensuring consistent genetic make-up and accurate age classing of each batch of animals shipped.

Eggs are incubated under constant conditions in the Larval Culture Lab until hatching. The free-swimming veliger larvae are then kept in sterile media for about 6 weeks until they are competent to undergo metamorphosis. Following metamorphosis, Stage 11 juveniles (1-2mm length) are moved to the Growout Lab where they are kept in chilled, ambient seawater troughs and fed a red seaweed diet. In the Growout Lab, animals may increase in mass 100,000 times (from 2 mg to 200 gm) in about 6 months. Animals of all sizes are shipped, including early stage, post-metamorphic juveniles useful in developmental studies and cell culture.

Macroalgae Facility

The Macroalgae Facility provides the 12 tons of the red seaweed Gracilaria needed yearly to feed animals in the Aplysia Growout Lab. Gracilaria also is available to researchers holding animals for a period of time before use. Continuous experimentation has resulted in maximizing yields of seaweed throughtout the year. The system consists of seven 2400 gallon Fiberglass tanks supplied with filtered sea water at a rate of 10 gallons per minute. Radiant energy and temperature are monitored constantly and algal growth rates are optimized by adjusting nutrient levels weekly.

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Stommes, D., L. Fieber, C. Beno, R. Gerdes, and T. R. Capo. 2005. Temperature Effects on Growth, Maturation, and Lifespan of the California Sea Hare (Aplysia californica). Contemp. Topics Lab. An. Sci.:44: No.33 p31-35.

Barile P.J, B. E. Lapointe, and T. R. Capo, 2004. Dietary nitrogen availability in macroalgae enhances growth of the sea hare Aplysia californica(Opisthobranchia: Anaspidea). J Exp.  Mar. Biol and Ecol. (in press).

Capo, T., L. Fieber, D. Stommes, and P. Walsh. 2003. Reproductive output in the hatchery-reared California sea hare at different stocking densities. Contemp. Topics Lab. An. Sci. 42:31-35.

Capo, T. R., L. A. Fieber, D. L. Stommes, and P. J. Walsh. 2002. The effect of stocking density on growth rate and maturation time in laboratory-reared California sea hares. Contemp. Topics Lab. An. Sci. 41:18-23.

Capo, T.R. and Walsh, P. 2001. Producing Marine Snails for Biomedical Research. Global Aquaculture Advocate, Vol.4, Issue 2. p. 73-74.

Medina, M. and Walsh, P.J. 2000. Molecular systematics of the order Anaspidea Based on Mitochondrial DNA sequence (12S, 16S and COI). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 15:41-58.

Contact Information

Mr. Thomas Capo, Resource Manager
Dr. Pat Walsh, Scientific Director

RSMAS - University of Miami
4600 Rickenbacker Causeway
Miami, FL 33149

tel: 305/421-4946
fax: 305/421-4934