• The University of Oviedo contributes to the design of a system that predicts the ability of the soil to decontaminate itself

    August 29, 2012

    CSIC researchers and the Universities of Oviedo and Illes Balears have created a database with the enzymes and microorganisms capable of destroying contaminants

    A multidisciplinary research team of the Spanish High Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), the University of Oviedo and The University of Illes Balears have developed a bio-computer platform which analyses the ability of an ecosystem to assimilate hundreds of contaminants. The work, carried out by the journal ISME J belonging to the group Nature,provides new perspectives to determine the ability of any soil affected by spillings of oil or certain aromatic hydrocarbons to decontaminate itself from the ADN sequencing of a microorganism.

    The scientists have designed a specific database which includes all the information available until now on enzymes and the possible microorganisms containing them and that, in a natural way, are able to destroy certain contaminants. This system makes it possible to establish the fingerprint for each ecosystem and, besides, predicts which kind of soils are more efficient in a bioremediation based on the use of natural elements from the ecosystem for the recovery of degraded, contaminated soils.

    "The platform explores the genomic materials of living organisms in search for information on biodegradation reactions and offers a unique profile for each ecosystem. In other words, it provides a real-time insight of the biodegradative properties of an ecosystem and thus, of their ability to decontaminate themselves",explains the CSIC researcher at the Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemistry, Manuel Ferrer.

    To monitor the presence or absence of these microorganisms and the propierties that each of them have in soils in different conditions, the researchers have applied different systems biology techniques such as Genomics, based on the soil ADN sequencing, Proteomics, which implies the sequencing of the proteins in every moment of the process, and Biostatistics, which consists in data systematization and exchange.

    "Each ecosystem contains millions of bateria which at the same time keep thousands of enzymes and to evaluate their presence or absence is almost impossible if we resort to the traditional methods for genomic analysis used up to now", points out Jesús Sánchez, researcher at the Biotechnology Institute of the University of Oviedo.

    A sustainable, cheaper process

    The methodological approaches of this work, the database included, are "an unprecedented chance" for researchers. The study has found out that the metabolic abilities of the enzymes and microorganisms change when the soil is subject to different cleaning treatments.

    "Thus, we might disinguish ecosystems easier to decontaminate from those that are not, that is, it will make it possible to establish the differences in the decontaminating abilities and, consequently, predict the efficiency of the bioremediation treatments", affirms Ramón Rosselló-Mòra, CSIC researcher at the Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies, a mixed centre belonging to the CSIC and the University of Illes Balears.

    According to the CSIC researcher at the National Centre for Biotechnology, Javier Tamames, "the bioremediation techniques allow it to tackle soil decontamination taking advantage of the metabolic potential of some of its components to be cleaned. It turns, then, into a more sustainable and cheaper alternative to eliminate soil residues or contaminants".

    The study, which is the result of five years of research, is part of the Consolider project, funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, and aims to study the biodiversity of different habitats in Spain, two European projects (MAGICPAH and ULIXES), focused on the research of biodiversity of population in European soils and marine environments of different habitats, and a project by the University of Oviedo, CENIT-07-CLEAM, dealing with innovative techniques for bioremediation and contaminated soil washing.