Escola Superior de Biotecnologia

New research projects approved in ESB

Friday, December 09, 2015 - 15:16

The Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) in 2015 approved funding for several research projects involving the ESB. Below you can find the descriptive summary of each project. The name of the coordinator researcher is also included.

Novos FERtilizantes para prevenir a clorose (Marta Vasconcelos)
Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) is a serious environmental problem affecting the growth of several crops in the world. Soil application of synthetic Fe(III) chelates is still one of the most common measures to correct IDC and the search for more effective Fe chelates remains an important issue. Herein, we will analyse the effectiveness of tris(3-hydroxy-4-pyridinonate) iron(III) complexes, Fe(dmpp)3 and Fe(mpp)3, as well as others, as new IDC correctors. Different morphological, biochemical and molecular parameters will be assessed as a first step towards understanding their mode of action, compared with that of the commercial fertilizer FeEDDHA, in soybean (Glycine max L.) plants. The project will provide a new source of Fe chelates that may be sustainable alternatives to the existing commercial products.


Previsão Nutricional: mitigar o impacto das alterações climáticas na nutrição das leguminosas (Marta Vasconcelos)
Our planet is experiencing some dramatic shifts in local environments, and in order to ensure that we maintain a nutritious food supply in the future, it is imperative that we are mindful of the potential negative impacts of climate change phenomena on crop quality. The Horizon2020 for 2015-2016 prioritizes studies addressing the mitigation of the impact of climate change on food security. Parallel to high CO2, it is also now incontestable that restricted soil Fe supply will impact the nutrition of the foods which we will consume in the future, as low Fe uptake restricts Fe content and plant fitness. Scientists are starting to assess these issues independently, but studies linking these two important aspects are few, and more targeted analyses are required. Thus, this project will focus on assessing the impact of high CO2 combined with restricted Fe supply. Iron was chosen for three main reasons: 1) an estimated 30% of total arable land is Fe deficient, 2) from a climate-change associated perspective, there is concern that altered bulk water flow in soils, such as in response to reduced stomatal conductance, might lower the amount of readily available, exchangeable Fe in the root zone; 3) no studies are available linking high CO2 and restricted Fe supply, two conditions which are likely to interplay in the future. This project is based on my recently approved FCT investigator award.


BIORALSTRIP Development of oral strips containing nanoencapsulated bioactive compounds (Manuela Pintado)
This project aims to link several key research questions as a strategy to produce and validate the function of conceptually new oral strips (OS) based on nanoparticles (NP) technology as carriers of bioactive molecules to be delivered in oral cavity thereby improving stability, pharmacokinetics (PK) and overall biopotency, greatly contributing to consumer/patient compliance and health and lifestyle enhancement. OS are orodispersible thin layers intended to deliver molecules (e.g. active pharmaceutical ingredients, dietary supplements) inside oral cavity within few seconds, not requiring water [1-3]. Moreover, taste, texture, color or even solubility profile are customizable, allowing to achieve maximum compliance by the consumer/patient. OS are, therefore, very promising tools regarding oral delivery, especially for molecules able to permeate oral epithelium (buccal and/or sublingual). This project will provide the scientific evidence to prove the viability of two models of nanoencapsulated molecules (caffeine and bioactive peptides delivered by oral strips as a more convenient system and to deliver these bioactive compounds with tailored and highest physiological activity. Although we study two models in the framework of this project, these results may be later applied to other bioactive molecules conveniently delivered by OS. Considering that at Centro de Biotecnologia e Química Fina (CBQF) and Instituto de Engenharia Biomédia (INEB) there is great expertise acquired in previous projects intimately related with the project here proposed, this project has favorable conditions to be performed with the potential to yield highly relevant scientific knowledge and marketable biotechnological products with great interest from the consumer/patient point of view.


WINYEAST – Towards the development of novel mixed-starter cultures of Hanseniaspora spp. and Saccharomyces cerevisiae for tailored-made wine production (Isabel Vasconcelos)
In traditional winemaking, spontaneous fermentation is carried out by a sequence of yeast species, Saccharomyces and non-Saccharomyces spp, naturally found in grape-musts. Non-Saccharomyces wine yeasts have been traditionally seen as "spoilage yeasts" due to the production of several detrimental metabolites and fermentation proprieties that depreciate wine quality. Presently, it is recognized the potential of these yeasts to improve wine quality by the production of beneficial aromatic compounds and of enzymes that catalyse desired biotransformation during alcoholic fermentation. In this line, the introduction of mixed-starter cultures consisting in a blend of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and non-Saccharomyces yeast strains has recently gained particular interest in wine industry to respond to the new challenges of consumers demands for wines with high complexity of flavour and stylistic distinction. In the last years several studies have investigated multi-starter fermentations, using different yeast species and inoculation strategies to determine the impact of these yeasts on the sensory proprieties of the wine. Despite of the studies already carried out on this subject there are no comparative and systematic studies combining the effects of grape-juice composition, particularly nitrogen, and fermentation conditions on the prevalence of non-Saccharomyces yeasts and therefore their contribution to the wine quality is not precisely known. Indeed there are no references about non-Saccharomyces nitrogen preferences neither nitrogen demands or how the initial nitrogen concentration of grape-juice may affect the total population dynamics and yeast-yeast during alcoholic fermentation. In the present proposal, we will extend our current work on the effects of nitrogen composition of grape-musts on S. cerevisiae fermentative performance and wine quality, to this unexplored issue in non-Saccharomyces wine yeast species. In this research proposal it is our main objective to put together the efforts and expertise of three complementary research groups (UTAD, IST, UCP) towards the rational development of novel mixed-starter cultures of non-Saccharomyces and S. cerevisiae for tailored-made wine production. To accomplish our objective we intend to explore a combination of approaches comprising screening, single/mixed culture trials, exo-metabolomics and sensorial analysis combined with advanced genomic and genetic tools. Such an innovative and integrative analysis has never been performed before. To obtain non-Saccharomyces wine yeasts to be used in consortium with S. cerevisiae, UTAD yeast culture collection, comprising natural yeasts isolated from wine-related environments, will be screened for interesting oenological proprieties including enzymatic activities, ability to produce interesting aromatic compounds and resistance to several oenological-related stress conditions (Task1). In Task2, we will assess nitrogen demands of the non-Saccharomyces strains exhibiting the most interesting oenological proprieties. This topic is of paramount interest since it is well known, in S. cerevisiae, the effect of nitrogen availability on yeast growth and fermentation kinetics and on the production of the major metabolites arising from sugar fermentation that establish the wine aroma profile. The objective of Task3 is to obtain the genome sequence of those non-Saccharomyces strains/species found to have the most interesting oenological traits, based on the results obtained in Task1 and 2, to identify genetic factors underlying the observed phenotypic traits. Next we will perform lab-scale fermentation trials to optimize inoculation conditions and examine how nitrogen availability shapes growth of S. cerevisiae and non-Saccharomyces spp in mixed-culture and how this balance impacts the fermentation performance and the properties of the wine produced (Task4). Task5 consists in the transcriptional analysis of S. cerevisiae/non-Saccharomyces spp mixed-cultures aiming to elucidate the regulatory mechanisms of yeast-yeast interactions during fermentation. Finally in Task6 , the suitability of the yeast blend(s) and co-inoculation strategy previously found to be more interesting in lab conditions will be validated in scale-up fermentations using medium volumes and natural grape-juice in the pilot winery at UTAD. At this stage, in addition to the chemical analysis, the sensory proprieties of the final wines will be evaluated. With this proposal we will greatly contribute to the physiological and molecular characterization of wine non-Saccharomyces yeasts. The expected results will shed light on how individual/mutual nutritional demands dictate yeast dynamics during wine fermentations and will contribute towards understanding the interactions that are at the base of the wine fermentation. The knowledge gathered in this project can provide us targets for the rational optimization and development of industrially appropriate mixed cultures.


BIONANOSCULP: Development and characterization of the application of BIONANOmaterials with anti-microbial protection for coating of metal and stone-based public SCULPtures (Patrícia Moreira)
Continuous exposure to environmental elements of urban outdoor public sculptures, placed in a high risk group within the cultural heritage property of cities, regions and countries. Apart from the climatic elements and pollution, biological agents play an important role in the deterioration of cultural heritage causing aesthetic, biogeophysical and biogeochemical damage. The microorganisms responsible for urban sculptures biodeterioration are different according to the materials present, and you can often find mature ecosystems with bacteria, fungi, lichens and micro-algae growing on the surface of these. Since the material present may vary from metals such as brass or iron, or stone base such as granite, marble or limestone, and further include materials of human creation as ceramics and cement, the variability of the elements involved in the biodeterioration is also high. From the point of view of conservation, the work in this type of passing objects, or treatments to eradicate the responsible agents, or by preventing their growth. It is precisely this last point, preventive maintenance, which is located the scope of investigation of this project. The main objective of this project through the development of nanofilms with chitosan base for application as protective layer with antimicrobial effects, possibly also being tested compounds with the incorporation of anti-UV effect. This new coating is tested in its effectiveness for the prevention of growth of the different agents involved, but also on the different requirements for application in this area, in particular interaction with the object material under physical, chemical and aesthetic point of view, reversibility, durability, applicability to different types of materials with special focus on metal and stone. The clear advantage over other products often applied as adhesives and synthetic consolidating, including the Paraloid-B72, is its low level of toxicity, which is very important from the point of view of the conservator-restorer or archaeologist. It is also evaluates whether the developed nanomaterials and tested in the project may be used as other functions besides the coating, such as consolidating, adhesives and may be used as a basis for color integration polychromatic sculptures, or applied to noble metals like gold and silver. A partnership with the Division of Urban Parks / Division of Porto House of Culture will provide access to assess the type and degree of biodeterioration in a selected number of 177 sculptures of various materials that are part of the cultural heritage of our city. The developed materials will be laboratory tested and the most promising (potentially) in small parts of some of said carvings. Among the different project tasks will be performed: the evaluation and characterization of bio-deterioration of outdoor urban sculptures of Porto; developing different nanomaterials with chitosan base and incorporation of other compounds with complementary functions; assessing the effect of anti-microbial and anti-UV coating developed material; assessment of interaction with the object of the materials in the physical, chemical and aesthetic point of view, reversibility, durability, applicability to different types of materials with a focus on metals and stone; potential application assessment with other functions, including chromatic integration, application noble metals, use as consolidating, etc; application in real situations, including the possibility of in situ tests.

The degree of project innovation is high but supported by extensive experience of CBQF workgroup coatings and biofilms will chitosan base and other biomaterials with application to different areas including medicine and food industry complemented with experience in the treatment area and prevent biodeterioration cultural objects.


SWIM – Soil water interface monitoring: development of automatic analysis tools (António Rangel)
Development of methods for automated flow analysis for monitoring the leaching of compounds in soils and groundwater contamination potential. It is intended to develop methodologies based on spectrophotometric detection in order to quantify compounds bio available. These compounds when leaching from soil to water, are potential contaminants of groundwater. Particular emphasis will be given to the determination of heavy metals, anthropogenic contamination of soils and emerging pollutants such as perchlorate. The leachate application imply goal include steps preconcentration and inline extraction. In this context it may be used functionalized solid supports, which also allows a semi-quantitative in situ analysis. Implementation methodologies developed a real-time monitoring of the effects of leaching of water on the soil column.


PSAlert – Kiwi Bacterial Canker: Exploring Resistance mechanisms and Control Techniques (Susana Carvalho)
"Actinidia deliciosa and A. chinensis, the most economically important species of kiwifruit in the world, are susceptible to Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (PSA), which was reported in Japan, Korea, China, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Chile, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. The bacteria invades plants via stomata and wounds and obstructs the vascular tissues, impairing plant development and inducing plant death. PSA symptoms are generally found in spring and autumn due to the cool temperatures and high humidity. PSA spreads through kiwi flower pollen, strong winds and heavy rainfall and also via footwear and tools. This disease proved to be devastating to Portuguese and Italian orchards, with an 80 % reduction in kiwi fruit production being reported in some cases. Disease control is very difficult and common bactericides have deleterious to the environment, thus the development of sustainable control strategies against PSA is of great importance. The key objectives of this project are to:

1) gain insight on which Actinidia spp. cultivars are naturally more resistant to PSA, having the potential to be used in selective breeding programs; 2) determine physiological and metabolic mechanisms related with PSA progression, which could allow a more precocious disease diagnostic; 3) identify key genes related with PSA resistance; 4) understand how plant nutrition and soil quality influence the susceptibility of kiwi plants to PSA, to improve the resistance of the most susceptible cultivars against PSA though optimized fertilization regimes; 5) evaluate the influence of environmental-friendly plant elicitors on plant resistance against PSA and kiwi fruit quality. The knowledge obtained in this project will allow the identification of key features related with pathogen-host interactions during kiwi bacterial canker and the optimization of agronomic practices focused on PSA control.