Navigation path

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Finland
  France
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Malta
  Mexico
  Montenegro
  Morocco
  Namibia
  Netherlands
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport


   Countries

Last Update: 20-11-2012  
Related category(ies):
Health & life sciences  |  Success stories

 

Countries involved in the project described in the article:
Argentina  |  Germany
Add to PDF "basket"

EXTREMOPHIL – Secrets of an 'extreme' Andean bacteria

Every now and then scientists discover something out of this world – like a primitive strain of bacteria that lives in an extreme environment – not knowing that one day the proteins in this organism could revolutionise biotechnology, reveal the secret to life on other planets, or simply change our sunbathing habits. EU-funded researchers are exploring the potential of the unspoilt lagoons of the Andes.


© Lukasz Kurbiel - Fotolia

Virginia Albarracín, a 34-year-old biologist from Argentina, is on an adventure which has taken her from fieldwork in the high-altitude lakes of the Andes to the western corner of Germany in pursuit of the secrets hidden in tiny, yet robust bacteria. Their ability to survive extremes in temperature and ultraviolet (UV) light, as well as inhospitable conditions makes them what Dr Albarracín calls a "model species for study".

In 2010, together with a team of scientists at the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) in Tucumán, Argentina she helped to identify the protein that makes the hardy Acinetobacter so extraordinarily resistant to these harsh extremes and (it turns out) capable of repairing its own damaged DNA – genes containing instructions for the development and functioning of most living organisms.

These discoveries could one day lead to future biotech applications ranging from highly protective sun-screen lotions – based on compounds that filter UV light – to new treatments for tumours and even insight into future energy solutions.

"But we mustn't forget this is basic research," Dr Albarracín points out, "which means there is no commercial application envisaged in the short term, but there is always a lot of promise when something so out of this world is discovered."

Super microbes
The researchers found millions of "super bacteria" thriving inside oxygen-starved lagoons of north-western Argentina. The bacteria's habitat, which includes high arsenic and salinity levels, is similar to primitive Earth before living and breathing organisms began wrapping a protective atmosphere of oxygen around the planet.

Previous discoveries by the CONICET team, led by microbiologist Dr María Eugenia Farías, include living stromatolites and rare microbial mats – dubbed the oldest and "most extreme microbes known on Earth". An overnight sensation, these tough life forms were featured in Nature, BBC and El Mundo, and the news of their discovery led to the lagoons where they live being proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The bacterial strains collected in Argentina have been sent for analysis at the Max Plank Institute (MPI) for Energy Chemical Conversion in Mülheim, Germany – a world-renowned centre for photochemistry and biophysics.

Dr Albarracín, with help from a Marie Curie Fellowship, chose to follow the bacteria to Germany where, under the EU-funded Screening and functional analyses of photoreceptors in extremophilic microbial communities (Extremophil) project, she continues to study the genetic material allowing these organisms to thrive in such diverse conditions. Results of this work, under the renowned chemist Professor Wolfgang Gärtner, have already appeared in the journal Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres (Springer).

The rarefied conditions of the high Andes are proving to be a "high window" through which scientists can understand the past (primitive life on Earth) but map out the future (new applications).

"The extreme conditions that we found these organisms in are an excellent analogue of Mars," she explains, which makes Acinetobacter and its habitat a model system for the study of life on other planets, and has previously attracted the likes of NASA to the region.

There is also talk of a whole new branch of 'turquoise' biotech products one day coming out of research into these hardy organisms. "This symbolises the colour of the Andean lakes where they live," says Dr Albarracín.

Project details

  • Participants: Argentina(Coordinator), Germany
  • FP7 Project N° 273831
  • Total costs: €164 242 (Incoming phase), €15 000 (Returning phase)
  • EU contribution: €164 242 (Incoming phase), €15 000 (Returning phase)
  • Duration: May 2011 to May 2013 (Incoming phase), June 2013 to June 2014 (Returning phase)

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

Project web site

Project information on CORDIS

Contacts
Unit A1 - External & internal communication,
Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
European Commission
Tel : +32 2 298 45 40
  Top   Research Information Center