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Agriculture is currently confronting an increasing human population and limitations of soil use due to, among other reasons, pollution levels above food safety threshold values. Some agricultural practices increase the heavy metal content (HM) of agricultural soil, representing an important threat for the European agricultural development. The use of microorganisms as plant growth promoters has been increasingly studied for a number of years, but it has only recently been proposed to improve plant metal tolerance. Regrettably, plant-microorganism-pollutant interactions are still poorly understood and the molecular underlying mechanisms are mostly unknown. The abovementioned challenges for agricultural production require the study of these mechanisms to better promote a more efficient and sustainable agriculture. This project will venture into new unchartered territory by focusing on the molecular interactions between a probiotic actinobacterium (Micromonospora cremea) and its host, Pisum sativum (garden pea), in the presence of HMs. We will evaluate the capacity of M. cremea CR30 to improve plant tolerance to HM polluted soils, in addition to unraveling the molecular dialogue during the first and late steps of their interaction. Early step interactions are crucial in plant promotion and protection against external stresses, like pollution by HM. Here, we propose the use of new -omic technologies to study these molecular interactions between plants and microorganisms under metal stress, providing a new pathway for an improved soil management. This project addresses a crucial objective in food security, the development of sustainable agricultural practices to control potentially adverse HM effects on plant health.

Remediation of Organically Contaminated Soil Through the Combination of Assisted Phytoremediation and Bioaugmentation

Authors: Mikel Anza, Oihane Salazar, Lur Epelde, José María Becerril, Itziar Alkorta and Carlos Garbisu

Journal: Applied Sciences

Vol: 9, 4757; doi:10.3390/app9224757

Date: 2019

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Here, we aimed to bioremediate organically contaminated soil with Brassica napus and a bacterial consortium. The bioaugmentation consortium consisted of four endophyte strains that showed plant growth-promoting traits (three Pseudomonas and one Microbacterium) plus three strains with the capacity to degrade organic compounds (Burkholderia xenovorans LB400, Paenibacillus sp. and Lysinibacillus sp.). The organically contaminated soil was supplemented with rhamnolipid biosurfactant and sodium dodecyl benzenesulfonate to increase the degradability of the sorbed contaminants. Soils were treated with organic amendments (composted horse manure vs. dried cow slurry) to promote plant growth and stimulate soil microbial activity. Apart from quantification of the expected decrease in contaminant concentrations (total petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), the e ectiveness of our approach was assessed in terms of the recovery of soil health, as reflected by the values of di erent microbial indicators of soil health. Although the
applied treatments did not achieve a significant decrease in contaminant concentrations, a significant improvement of soil health was observed in our amended soils (especially in soils amended with dried cow slurry), pointing out a not-so-uncommon situation in which remediation e orts fail from the point of view of the reduction in contaminant concentrations while succeeding to recover soil health.

Avanzando en la aplicación de estrategias innovadoras de fitogestión en zonas contaminadas del espacio Sudoe (Phy2SUDOE)

La fitogestión es una fitotecnología, surgida a partir de la fitorremediación, basada en el uso de plantas (árboles, arbustos, herbáceas) para controlar el riesgo asociado a la presencia de contaminantes en emplazamientos degradados, a la vez que: (i) se generan productos (e.g., madera, resina, aceites esenciales, bioenergía, ecocatalizadores) a partir de la biomasa cosechada; y (ii) se potencia el suministro de servicios ecosistémicos (e.g., secuestro de C, control de erosión, creación de hábitats).

Phy2SUDOE pretende valorizar emplazamientos contaminados con metales-metaloides y/o compuestos orgánicos en la región SUDOE mediante el empleo de estrategias de fitogestión encaminadas a la generación de productos y servicios ecosistémicos en dichos emplazamientos, a la vez que se minimiza el impacto ambiental que los contaminantes pudieran
ocasionar. Asimismo, este proyecto aspira a implantar estrategias de conservación de la biodiversidad endémica propia de algunos emplazamientos contaminados (e.g., flora metalícola, bacterias promotoras del crecimiento vegetal, etc.) por su valor intrínseco y utilitario (e.g., aplicaciones biotecnológicas).

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Type IV coupling proteins as potential targets to control the dissemination of antibiotic resistance

Authors: Álvarez-Rodríguez I, Arana L, Ugarte-Uribe B, Gómez-Rubio E, Martín-Santamaría S, Garbisu C, Alkorta I
Title: Type IV coupling proteins as potential targets to control the dissemination of antibiotic resistance
Journal:  Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences
Vol: 7, 201 Date: 2020

The increase of infections caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria, together with the loss of effectiveness of currently available antibiotics, represents one of the most serious threats to public health worldwide. The loss of human lives and the economic costs associated to the problem of the dissemination of antibiotic resistance require immediate action. Bacteria, known by their great genetic plasticity, are capable not only of mutating their genes to adapt to disturbances and environmental changes but also of acquiring new genes that allow them to survive in hostile environments, such as in the presence of antibiotics. One of the major mechanisms responsible for the horizontal acquisition of new genes (e.g., antibiotic resistance genes) is bacterial conjugation, a process mediated by mobile genetic elements such as conjugative plasmids and integrative conjugative elements. Conjugative plasmids harboring antibiotic resistance genes can be transferred from a donor to a recipient bacterium in a process that requires physical contact. After conjugation, the recipient bacterium not only harbors the antibiotic resistance genes but it can also transfer the acquired plasmid to other bacteria, thus contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. Conjugative plasmids have genes that encode all the proteins necessary for the conjugation to take place, such as the type IV coupling proteins (T4CPs) present in all conjugative plasmids. Type VI coupling proteins constitute a heterogeneous family of hexameric ATPases that use energy from the ATP hydrolysis for plasmid transfer. Taking into account their essential role in bacterial conjugation, T4CPs are attractive targets for the inhibition of bacterial conjugation and, concomitantly, the limitation of antibiotic resistance dissemination. This review aims to compile present knowledge on T4CPs as a starting point for delving into their molecular structure and functioning in future studies. Likewise, the scientific literature on bacterial conjugation inhibitors has been reviewed here, in an attempt to elucidate the possibility of designing T4CP-inhibitors as a potential solution to the dissemination of multidrug-resistant bacteria.

Emergency and spread of antibiotic resistance (KONTRAE)

In the KONTRAE project (funded by ELKARTEK, Basque Government), we will study in depth the links between human health, livestock, food and environment, in relation to antibiotic resistance.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), antibiotic resistance is currently one of the greatest threats to human health, the economic sustainability of health systems, food security and overall socio-economic development. In the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAPV), as in the rest of the world, this problem is increasing in a worrying way, as reflected in the growing detection in our hospitals of infections caused by multi-resistant or pan-resistant bacteria, with the resulting increase in deaths, health costs and productivity losses for companies.

To be able to successfully face this health and economic challenge, it is essential to approach it from a One Health perspective (“healthy people, healthy animals, safe and healthy food, healthy environment”), since the emergence and dissemination of many of the resistances to antibiotics occur in the environment and, through different routes of exposure, reach people.

Links between pesticide residues and antibiotic resistance dissemination in organically-managed agroecosystems (PRADA)

The main objective of this PRADA project (PID2019-110058GB-C22, financed by the ministry of Science and Innovation) is to unravel the links between the presence of pesticide residues (copper-fungicide, glyphosate-herbicide) and animal manure-derived organic amendments (cow manure) on the emergence (resistome) and dissemination (mobilome) of antibiotic resistance (AR) in conventional and ecological agriculture systems, as well as to better understand the potential contribution of relevant edaphoclimatic factors (soil pH, temperature, moisture) on such AR.

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LIFE IP URBAN KLIMA 2050 is the largest climate action project in Basque Country for the next years and will demonstrate the effective and well-coordinated implementation of the KLIMA 2050 climate strategy in our territory. The project considers the urban settlements as the core for CC adaptation. One of the objectives is citizens’ empowerment for long-term engagement in environmentally responsible behaviours and healthier lifestyles. In this respect, our role in the project will be to take part in the design of a methodology for the creation of a platform for citizen science. This platform will include measurements from our Soil Health Cards, a tool that allows to evaluate the health of soil ecosystems in general and agroecosystems in particular, thus being able to monitor the evolution of the case studies of the project and choose those management alternatives that prove to be more sustainable from the point of view of the mitigation and adaptation to CC.

You will find more information about the project here


Documentary on antibiotic resistance

We have taken part in the recording of a documentary on antibiotic resistance for the Teknopolis programme of ETB. EHU/UPV, BC3 and Neiker-Tecnalia have joined forces in a pioneering research that studies the problem from different perspectives: environment, climate change, agriculture and livestock. Teknopolis has explained how resistance emerges and why it spreads, the solutions proposed by the experts and how each of us can do our bit.

In Basque: Lehen bideoa Bigarren bideoa

In Spanish: Primer vídeo Segundo vídeo