Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Petroleum-eating mushrooms

01.12.2011
B. Franz Lang and Mohamed Hijri break new ground in environmental genomics

Take a Petri dish containing crude petroleum and it will release a strong odor distinctive of the toxins that make up the fossil fuel. Sprinkle mushroom spores over the Petri dish and let it sit for two weeks in an incubator, and surprise, the petroleum and its smell will disappear.

"The mushrooms consumed the petroleum!" says Mohamed Hijri, a professor of biological sciences and researcher at the University of Montreal's Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV).

Hijri co-directs a project with B. Franz Lang promoting nature as the number one ally in the fight against contamination. Lang holds the Canada Research Chair on Comparative and Evolutionary Genomics and is a professor at the university's Department of Biochemistry. By using bacteria to stimulate the exceptional growth capacity of certain plants and microscopic mushrooms, Hijri and Lang believe they are able to create in situ decontamination units able to successfully attack the most contaminated sites on the planet.

The recipe is simple. In the spring, we plant willow cuttings at 25-centimeter intervals so the roots dive into the ground and soak up the degrading contaminants in the timber along with the bacteria. At the end of the season, we burn the stems and leaves and we are left with a handful of ashes imprisoning all of the heavy metals that accumulated in the plant cells. Highly contaminated soil will be cleansed after just a few cycles. "In addition, it's beautiful," says Hijri pointing to a picture of dense vegetation covering the ground of an old refinery after just three weeks.

Thanks to the collaboration of an oil company from the Montreal area, the researchers had access to a microbiological paradise: an area where practically nothing can grow and where no one ventures without protective gear worthy of a space traveler. This is where Hijri collected microorganisms specialized in the ingestion of fossil fuels. "If we leave nature to itself, even the most contaminated sites will find some sort of balance thanks to the colonization by bacteria and mushrooms. But by isolating the most efficient species in this biological battle, we can gain a lot of time."

Natural and artificial selection

This is the visible part of the project, which could lead to a breakthrough in soil decontamination. The project is called Improving Bioremediation of Polluted Soils Through Environmental Genomics and it requires time-consuming sampling and fieldwork as well as DNA sequencing of the species in question. The project involves 16 researchers from the University of Montreal and McGill University, many of which are affiliated with the IRBV. The team also includes four researchers, lawyers and political scientists, specializing in the ethical, environmental, economic, legal and social aspects of genomics.

The principle is based on a well-known process in the sector called phytoremediation that consists in using plant matter for decontamination. "However, in contaminated soils, it isn't the plant doing most of the work," says Lang. "It's the microorganisms i.e. the mushrooms and bacteria accompanying the root. There are thousands of species of microorganisms and our job is to find the best plant-mushroom-bacteria combinations."

Botanist Michel Labrecque is overseeing the plant portion of the project. The willow seems to be one of the leading species at this point given its rapid growth and premature foliation. In addition, its stem grows even stronger once it has been cut. Therefore, there is no need to plant new trees every year. However, the best willow species still needs to be determined.

One of the best in the country

By investing 7.6 million dollars over three years, Genome Canada, Genome Quebec and other partners are expecting concrete results in the soil decontamination market, which is estimated at 30 billion dollars in Canada alone. "The fact that the project ranked second amongst the best projects in the country took us by surprise," says Lang who is already world renowned in genomics and bioinformatics, and who has been published in the most prestigious publications.

In the new luminous laboratories of the Centre sur la biodiversité, where Hijri just moved in with his team, everyone is very focused on the project. Over twenty people have been hired in recent months or will be shortly to see this project through.

The participation of McGill University's Suha Jabaji and Charles Greer is an important asset for the project's success. "This is truly an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaboration," says Lang. "It's the result of teamwork."

"At the end of the season, it is here that we will receive the cut plant matter from our experimental land and analyze it in great detail," says Lang surrounded by measuring equipment.

On the second floor of the Center, research agents will work at sequencing the samples. Robots and high-precision machinery worth hundreds of thousands of dollars still need to be unpacked, which shouldn't take long seeing as investors are expecting results in the near to midterm."

For Lang, this project is the culminating point of his career. "I was always closely tied to fundamental research. However, what we're doing here is the fruit of the past 25 years of work. This concrete application of science could never have been possible had I not done fundamental research, and I plan on letting know our politicians in charge of financing."

In his laboratory, five people have already been employed for the project and that's just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to pitching in – he plans on going into the field and manipulating samples – Lang is seeing to the transfer of knowledge with the help of Univalor and the Bureau Recherche-Développement-Valorisation (BRDV). "A task that is very hard for a researcher to do early in his career," says Lang.

Already, several companies are knocking on his door and partnership agreements are in the works. If the project leads to commercial results, Lang wants the majority of proceeds to go to research at the University of Montreal and McGill University in disciplines connected to this project. "It will be a way of ensuring that the next generation continues this work," says Lang.

The University of Montreal is officially known as Université de Montréal.

Links :

Prof. Lang's Homepage www.biochimie.umontreal.ca/bottin411/Enseignants/lang_f.html

Université de Montréal Institut de recherche en biologie végétale www.irbv.umontreal.ca/chercheurs/mohamed-hijri

For further information:
William Raillant-Clark
Press Attaché – Scientific Research
Université de Montréal
Tel: 514-343-7593 | w.raillant-clark@umontreal.ca | @uMontreal_News

William Raillant-Clark | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umontreal.ca

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Staying in Shape
16.08.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für molekulare Zellbiologie und Genetik

nachricht Chips, light and coding moves the front line in beating bacteria
16.08.2018 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Staying in Shape

16.08.2018 | Life Sciences

Diving robots find Antarctic seas exhale surprising amounts of carbon dioxide in winter

16.08.2018 | Earth Sciences

Protein droplets keep neurons at the ready and immune system in balance

16.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>