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This project is one of the five winners of the call 2017 «Microbials – Direct Use of Micro-Organisms».
Project partners: Department of Botany and Vegetal Biology, Department F-A Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, University of Geneva; Service de l'écologie de l'eau (SECOE), Geneva; Laboratorio di microbiologia applicata (ICM), Bellinzona; INRA- UMR CARRTEL, Thonon-les-Bains, France; Institute of Geosciences, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany; Universidad Mayor San Andres (UMSA), Instituto de Investigaciones Biologicas, La Paz, Bolivia; Phytorestore, Paris, France
Project no: GRS-071/17
Amount of funding: CHF 325'000
Duration: 06.2018 - 06.2021
Area of activity: Microbials, seit 2016
Prof. Daniel Ariztegui
University of Geneva
Department of Earth Sciences
Rue des Maraichers 13
1205 Genève (Schweiz)
- daniel.ariztegui@unige. ch
Recently certain microalgae have been discovered to form intracellular mineral inclusions called micropearls. They highly concentrate specific polluting elements (e.g. Sr and Ba) opening new possibilities to develop bioremediation techniques. This could be useful for example for waters polluted by radioactive strontium, which are produced in high quantities by accidents such as Chernobyl or Fukushima, but is also known as a major contaminant found in wastewater and sludges linked with nuclear activities. Organisms preferentially concentrating barium could be used for waters polluted by barium, linked to sludge deposits due to oil production.
These micropearls were first observed in Lake Geneva. The lake’s low concentration of pollutants uncovered these microalgaes extremely high concentration capacity. Preliminary laboratory tests further showed that these organisms are able to incorporate high concentrations of the polluting elements in only a few days. Moreover, they apparently survive in waters containing high quantities of the element they concentrate. Altogether these capacities elect these micropearl-forming organisms as very good candidates for the development of bioremediation methodologies.
The biomineralization process leading the organism to produce micropearls is not yet understood. The challenges are to 1) fully understand the biological process leading to the biomineralization of the micropearls; 2) identify the genes involved in the tolerance and the absorption of the polluting elements; and 3) implement a bioremediation application in natural environments.
What is special about the project?
This research addresses key questions concerning the environmental and internal conditions in which certain micro-organisms form intracellular mineral inclusions and concentrate polluting elements. Micropearls are a totally new feature in biology. Although some are produced by well-studied organisms (e.g. Tetraselmis cordiformis), they had been overlooked until end 2016. The mineralogy of micropearls is innovative in itself, as they show internal nanoscale concentric zonations which have never been observed in amorphous minerals before. Finally, the biological process leading to the biomineralization of micropearls has no known equivalent. To address this totally new topic, our interdisciplinary approach is a cross-over between geology, chemistry, biology and environmental sciences. Moreover, the possible bioremediation applications could be of great societal benefit.
When the present project was launched in June 2018 we focused exclusively on the algae of the genus Tetraselmis, mainly composed of marine species and a single freshwater species. However, we have recently discovered that species of the genus Scherffelia, which live in freshwater environments, also produce micropearls. This finding gives us more opportunities to successfully develop a potential bioremediation technique in both seawater and freshwater environments. Furthermore, other microorganisms containing micropearls have been observed in Lake Geneva and their isolation is being undertaken. The latter will allow us to fulfil the first milestone of the project.
Martignier, A., Filella, M., Pollok, K., Melkonian, M., Bensimon, M., Barja, F., Langenhorst, F., Jaquet, J.M., Ariztegui, D. (2018) Marine and freshwater micropearls: Biomineralization producing strontium-rich amorphous calcium carbonate inclusions is widespread in the genus Tetraselmis (Chlorophyta). Biogeosciences, 15, 6591-6605;
Martignier A., Pacton M., Filella M., Jaquet J.-M., Barja F., Pollok K., Langenhorst F., Lavigne S., Guagliardo P., Kilburn M.R., Thomas C., Martini R. and Ariztegui D. (2017) Intracellular amorphous carbonates uncover a new biomineralization process in eukaryotes. Geobiology 15: 240-253.
Persons involved in the project
Prof. Daniel Aritzegui
, project leaderInés Segovia Campos
, phd studentFrancois Barja
, lecturer, Department of Botany and Vegetal Biology, UNIGEMontserrat Filella
, lecturer, Department F-A Forel for Environmental and Aquatic Sciences, UNIGEJean-Michel Jaquet
, guest scientist, Department of Earth Sciences, UNIGEAgathe Martignier
, SEM lab manager, Department of Earth Sciences, UNIGE (presently accomplishing her dissertation on the subject that is the base of this proposal)
Dario Acha: Professor/Director, Universidad Mayor San Andres (UMSA), Instituto de Investigaciones Biologicas, La Paz, Bolivia
Stephan Jacquet: Senior researcher, INRA, Thonon-les-Bains, France.
Mauro Tonolla: Head of the Laboratorio di microbiologia applicata (ICM), Bellinzona (Ti)
Last update to this project presentation 25.06.2019