Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Earthworm detectives provide genetic clues for dealing with soil pollution

The humble earthworm provides a new sensitive and detailed picture of what is going on in our contaminated soil ecosystems.

New research published in two BioMed Central journals shows that copper contamination has a detrimental effect by interfering with the energy metabolism of the exposed invertebrates and that different pollutants have unique molecular effects, with implications for both monitoring and remediation of toxins.

The earthworm Lumbricus rubellus has long been known as an ‘ecosystem engineer’ for the role it plays in water, nutrient and carbon cycling in a range of tropical and temperate soils, and is widely used as a model organism for soil testing. However, standard lab assays do not reveal the molecular mechanisms by which L. rubellus adapts to exposure to soil contaminants. Although the L. rubellus genome has not yet been sequenced, a comprehensive expressed sequence tag dataset is now available ( that enables the development of tools that bring the earthworm into the genomics arena.

Two teams, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and led by Peter Kille of Cardiff University, have jointly published their research on the use of a systems toxicology approach to understanding the impact of four soil contaminants on L. rubellus in the open access journals, BMC Biology and BMC Genomics. Using a new 8,000-element microarray, they describe the transcriptome profile of L. rubellus exposed to copper, cadmium, the polyaromatic hydrocarbon fluoroanthene, and the agrochemical atrazine. In both studies this approach revealed subtle changes induced by the toxic chemicals in earthworm gene expression patterns. The second study, which specifically focused on copper exposure, extended the approach by identifying the consequences of the genetic changes in terms of altered metabolism (impact to their metabolomic profile) in conjunction with large-scale physical changes in worm health.

The molecular approach to monitor ecosystem effects of toxins described in these two papers allows us to understand not only the uniqueness of earthworms, given that many of the genes they express do not yet have equivalents in ‘model’ organisms, but is also an important step towards the better understanding of how the earthworm has evolved adaptive mechanisms to deal with soil pollution.

This multidisciplinary research shows that a systems approach to ecotoxicology, combining technologies usually used in isolation, can be a powerful tool for understanding the response of an ecologically important organism to contaminants, and opens up the possibility of new and more effective soil monitoring and bioremediation strategies.

Dr Kille concluded “The ubiquitous nature of the earthworm makes it an accepted part of our everyday world. People don’t ask themselves how worms survive in soil where the pH naturally ranges from acidic pet bogs at pH 4 to chalk downs at pH 8 or where intensively farming requires significant use of agrochemicals/pesticides or within highly contaminated ex-industrial sites. Our research illustrates how exploiting genomics and metabolomics reveals the mechanics that allow this organism to be omnipresent in our terrestrial environment.”

Charlotte Webber | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>