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Phototrophic biofilms and their potential applications: towards the development of a unifying concept

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Reference no: OND1290732
Acronym: PHOBIA
Period: January 2002 till December 2005
Status: Completed

Thesaurus terms: Ecology; Ground water; Surface water

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PHOBIA has been funded by the EU in the framework of the 5th FP Quality of Life, in Key action 3: The Cell Factory. In a consortium with UFZ Magdeburg (D), ITQB Oeiras (PT), Univ of Copenhagen (DK), TNW Delft University, and the Univ. of Rome, NIOO-CEME (MM) will investigate the microenvironment, physiology, and spatial development of a number of aquatic phototrophic biofilms. NIOO-CEME is the coordinator of this 36-month RTD project (Rijstenbil). Phototrophic biofilms are defined as: interfacial attached microbial communities mainly driven by light as the energy source, with a photosynthetic component clearly present. Microalgae and cyanobacteria generate energy and reduce CO2, provide organic substrates and O2, and fuel processes and conversions in the total biofilm community, which includes the heterotrophic component. Phototrophic biofilms are useful biocatalysts and transformers; however, the potential for practical applications is not well explored. A matrix of adhesives (mostly polysaccharides) produced by the biofilms provides the attachment of the microbial community. Some polysaccharides also serve in the immobilization and accumulation of waste compounds.
The objectives of PHOBIA are

  1. to comprehend how aquatic biofilms adhere to submerged surfaces, how the biofilms grow and function;
  2. to make a unifying conceptual model for phototrophic biofilms, based on artificial neural networks. With such self-learning models, it is possible to predict how environmental conditions structure the biofilm (both in spatial terms and in terms of biodiversity/phylogeny), and how the biofilm interacts with the environment and the substrata.

The development of two biofilm types will be investigated in a special type of incubator, under controlled conditions: a marine biofilm, in order to study bio-fouling and to develop new antifouling substances; a freshwater biofilm, in order to study the capacity of such biofilms for bioremediation of polluted waters. A number of end-users are involved in the project, according to their special interest: ATOFINA Vlissingen (for antifouling studies); Waterschap Zeeuwse Eilanden (Goes) and Eco.carbon GmbH (Berlin) for the applications in wastewater treatment. The core of the experimental work comprises: a study of surface interactions and initial adhesion of bio films, which is the major input of NIOO-CEME; the microenvironment of the biofilms using microsensor techniques; the spatial development of the biofilms where laserscanning microscopy is the major tool; taxonomy, biodiversity and phylogeny of micro-organisms in the aquatic biofilms, in which NIOO-CEME plays a role in pigment and fatty acid identification, and molecular techniques (with Delft University); the physiology (photosynthesis, metabolic conversions, EPS characteristics) of the biofilms. With the data of these experiments (1) a kinetic model, and (2) a spatial model for biofilm growth will be joined together to construct a final model, the artificial neural network (ANN). The ANN model will be made available to users for applications in antifouling strategies, and for the bioremediation of polluted water and soil.

Planning 2003:
PHOBIA started in November 2002, testing and optimising the sampling methods for aquatic biofilms for the different analyses. NIOO-CEME will provide the marine inocula for the biofilm incubator. To this end a laboratory set-up has been constructed to collect marine biofilms. In this set-up, measurements of biomass and growth of the marine biofilms are optimised. For NIOO-CEME, the task is to analyse: pigment analysis (HPLC); fatty acid fingerprinting (GC); the role of ROX generation by antifoulants (CLSM); photosynthesis and respiration measurements using 18O2 (MIMS); PLFA fingerprinting (GC-IRMS); EPS characterizations (HPLC); adhesive/cohesive biofilm strength (elasticity). The technical and analytical tools for these characteristics will be developed in the first half of 2003. The biofilm incubator that is built by UFZ (Magdeburg) will be tested during summer. After that, the experiments on phototrophic biofilm development will be started, and will extend to 2005. An experiment will be initiated in cooperation with Waterschap Zeeuwse Eilanden, in which the beneficial role of epiphytic biofilms growing on reed stems will be studied, in order to improve the efficiency of a helophyte filter used as an after-treatment of domestic wastewater effluent (nutrient- and metal removal). The design of natural antifoulants will be addressed in cooperation with ATOFINA, and the first tests of these compounds in preventing the biofilm development will take place.

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