Research with the participation of IMEDEA (UIB-CSIC) develops a system able to predict the ability of a soil to get itself clean

imedea - uibA multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), the University of Oviedo and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has developed a bioinformatics platform to analyze the ability of an ecosystem to absorb hundreds of contaminants. The study, published in the journal ISME J from the Nature group, opens new perspectives for determining the ability of a soil affected by spills to decontaminate itself. This analysis is based on the sequencing of DNA from microorganisms.Scientists have developed a specific database that brings together all the information available to date on enzymes and microorganisms that possibly contain them and which are naturally capable to destroy certain contaminants. The system allows to establish the fingerprint of each ecosystem, and also predicts in which soils bioremediation can be more effective, based on using natural elements of the ecosystem itself to reverse the degradation of polluted soil. “The platform scans genomic material from living organisms, seeking information about biodegradation reactions, and offers a unique profile for each ecosystem. In other words, provides a real-time vision of the biodegradative capabilities of an ecosystem, and therefore its ability to decontaminate itself”, says the CSIC researcher at the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry Manuel Ferrer.

To monitor the presence or absence of these microorganisms and their properties in soils with different conditions, researchers have applied different techniques from systems biology, such as genomics, based on DNA soil sequencing; proteomics, which means sequencing of proteins in each stage of the process; and biostatistics, which consists in the systematization and data matching.

“Each ecosystem contains millions of bacteria that contain thousands of enzymes each. Assessing the presence or absence of them is nearly impossible if we use the conventional genomic analysis methods used to date”, explain Jesús Sánchez, a researcher at the Biotechnology Institute from the University of Oviedo.

A sustainable and cheaper process

The methodological approaches followed in this work, including the database developed, is “an unprecedented opportunity” for scientists. The study has also discovered that metabolic capacities of the enzymes and microorganisms change when soil  different cleaning treatments.

“This way, we can differentiate ecosystems that can be more easily decontaminated from those that cannot. That is, it will allow to establish differences in decontamination capabilities and, thus, to predict the effectiveness of bioremediation treatments”, says Ramón Rosselló-Móra, CSIC researcher at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, a joint research center between CSIC and the University of the Balearic Islands.

According to the CSIC researcher at the Biotechnology National Center Javier Tamames, “bioremediation techniques allow us to face soil decontamination exploiting the metabolic potential of some of its components for cleaning. They become a more sustainable alternative and cheaper than other methods to remove waste and pollution”.

The study, result of five years of work, is part of a consolidated project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, which aims to study the biodiversity of populations of different habitats within the Spanish geography, two European projects (MAGICPAH and ULIXES). These projects focus on research on populations biodiversity in soil and marine environments of European geography of different habitats. The research is also a result from the CENIT-07-CLEAM project from the University of Oviedo, aimed at developing innovative techniques for bioremediation and washing of contaminated soils.


María-Eugenia Guazzaroni, Florian-Alexander Herbst, Iván Lores, Javier Tamames, Ana Isabel Peláez, Nieves López-Cortés, María Alcaide, Mercedes V. Del Pozo, José María Vieites, Martin von Bergen, José Luis R. Gallego, Rafael Bargiela, Arantxa López-López, Dietmar H. Pieper, Ramón Rosselló-Móra, Jesús Sánchez, Jana Seifert, Manuel Ferrer. «Metaproteogenomic insights beyond bacterial response to naphthalene exposure and bio-stimulation». ISME J. DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2012.82.

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