Project Description

MISSION

The main scope of Bryomics is to provide a deep understanding of the mechanisms underlying the existence of phenotypic variability for heavy metals tolerance and hyperaccumulation in mosses (which differ from those in higher plants), as well as the necessary background knowledge to subsequently develop high potential biotechnological tools for air quality remediation and crop improvement

BACKGROUND

The anthropogenic emission of heavy metals into the atmosphere constitutes a major social and environmental concern. Poor air quality is a major health risk (in 2010, more than 420,000 people were estimated to have died prematurely from air pollution in the EU) and has also considerable economic and environmental impacts, affecting the quality of fresh water, soil, and ecosystems (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/pubs/…/factsheets/air/en.pdf). Though several regulatory steps have been implemented within the EU to reduce or restrict the release of pollutants in the air, e.g. Council Directive 96/62/EC (September, 1996), and also to monitor/model them (Council Directive 2004/107/EC, 15th December, 2004), more work is needed to progress in the characterization of the relationship between living organisms and environmental pollution. Some bryophyte species are able to thrive in highly contaminated environments, however the mechanisms underlying their capacity to survive under such extreme conditions are poorly understood, as it is the potential application of this knowledge on environmental remediation and agricultural crops improvement.

WHY BRYOPHYTES?

While animals and humans can move to avoid stressful conditions plants cannot escape. Thus, they must be better prepared to survive and respond to environmental change. For this reason, plants constitute a valuable biological resource to study phenomena of adaptation to environmental variation/stress, which is of fundamental importance in evolutionary, population, conservation and global-change biology.

Mosses are within the first group of green plants to colonize terrestrial habitats and therefore, are most likely the first organisms coping with environmental stress (e.g. drought, increased radiation, higher levels of trace elements), which makes them ideal assets for the study of the mechanisms underlying plant adaptive responses.

These organisms are able to survive in heavy metal enriched areas. They have a low capacity of internal self-regulation due to their morphological and physiological characteristics, which makes them ideal for studying the interactions between environmental stress factors and organism responses. Besides, the dominant phase of their life cycle is the haploid gametophyte which considerably simplifies their genetic analysis. Finally, they are easy to grow in the laboratory, and grow very fast. All these characteristics make them excellent targets for the application of molecular tools such as epigenetics and transcriptomics.

EPIGENETICS

Epigenetics is a nascent discipline that studies the patterns and changes of epigenetic marks in living organisms. These are modifications of the chromatin structure that result in changes in gene expression patterns without the alteration of the basic nucleotide sequence. Epigenetic changes can occur in response to environmental stress leading to phenotypic variation of ecologically important traits, long-term adaptations of organisms to the environment, and influencing the evolutionary potential of species. BRYOMICS will focus in the study of the DNA methylation patterns and changes in response to heavy metal exposure in moss tissues in order to evaluate, for the first time, the contribution of this epigenetic mark to the heavy metal tolerance phenotype.

DNA methylation is one of the most studied epigenetic marks and consists in the addition of a methyl group in the cytosines residues of the DNA. Addition or removal of the methyl groups (which can be induced by environmental cues) would alter the chromatin structure, thus affecting the expressed genes in the organism. To learn more about the epigenome and how it regulates gene expression visit: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/

TRANSCRIPTOMICS

Transcriptomics is the study of the actively expressed genes in and organism tissue. Since gene expression may be shaped by environmental conditions, whole-transcriptome analysis is important for understanding how altered expression in response to environmental stimuli contributes to plant phenotypic responses. BRYOMICS will make use of transcriptomics to provide insight into the molecular mechanisms involved in heavy metal tolerance in mosses.