Research on mixoplankton dates back over a century. It is likely that one of the first microbes ever seen by humans, by the Dutch microbiologist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632 – 1723), was the mixotroph Paramecium. However, work on mixoplankton (as we now call them) was uncoordinated and failed to become mainstream. The science of plankton ecology, the study of the foundation of life in the oceans, was well and truly dominated by “phytoplankton” and “zooplankton”.
Driven by an interest in simulation modelling of plankton, Kevin J Flynn and Aditee Mitra applied for funding for an international network grant to the Leverhulme Trust to study marine mixotrophy. In December 2010, this project “Placing marine mixotrophs in context, modelling mixotrophy in a changing world”, was funded. And so began the journey. From 2011 to 2013 a series of workshops were held in Sweden (Kalmar), UK (Wales) and the USA (Horn Point) that brought together experts across the field of marine planktonic protists.
Outputs from those meetings explored: the false dichotomy of the traditional phytoplankton-zooplankton paradigm; advantages of acquired phototrophy; the role of photo-phago mixotrophy in shaping the biological carbon pump ; stoichiometric implications for photo-phago mixotrophy; and the functional classification of planktonic protists.
In 2014, a stakeholders meeting was held in Swansea to showcase the outputs from this grant to ecosystems modellers.
In 2016, Aditee Mitra commenced assembly of the pan-European team that was to form the MixITiN Consortium. The submission was made to the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions ITN scheme in January 2017. This proposal – MixITiN – achieved a very high score and was the only marine facing ITN that was funding in the 2017 round.