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Biotechnologies In Georgia

Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, LEPL Innovation and Technology agency, together with US National Science Foundation and University of Tennesse Knoxvile is hosting First International Conference on Biology and Biotechnology of Thermophilic Microorganisms.  Conference will be held in Tbilisi, Georgia 5th of October 2015. 

PROJECT SUMMARY

Overview:

Microorganisms that thrive at relatively (41°-80°C) or extremely (80°-122°C) hot environments are called thermophiles or hyperthermophiles, respectively. Thermophilic organisms were discovered among bacteria, archaea, and mycelial fungi. Many (hyper)thermophiles tolerate other environmental extremes such as high acidity, high pressure or radiation levels, which makes them valuable subjects for applied microbiology and biotechnology.

A statement of the need for conference and a list of topics.

The proposed International Conference is important for the development of new collaborations and projects. The discussions will involve opportunities for collaborations in areas of joint research activities, exchange of research and educational materials, publications and academic information. Discussions will also include future exchanges of faculty, staff and research scholars, development of short-term academic programs, and international research experiences for undergraduate and graduate students. This workshop will be held in Georgia to facilitate visits to and evaluations of the existing collection of extremophiles, as well as discussions of possible biotechnological applications of these unique strains.

The meeting will focus on the topics that have the greatest potential for development of thermophiles research in Georgia, and present opportunities where collaboration between scientists would yield the greatest near-term achievements. The following priorities will be followed: Priority 1: Microbial diversity, biology and genetics of thermophilic microorganisms including cellulolytic bacteria. Priority 2: Next generation omics approaches for studying inhabitants of high-temperature environments. Priority 3: Application of thermophilic microorganisms and their enzymes in biotechnology.

Broader Impacts:

The project will initiate and enhance the collaborations and partnerships between countries. It will also stimulate and advance research into the biology and ecology of thermophilic microorganisms with respect to fundamental science and biotechnological applications. The project will support participation of undergraduate/graduate students and early career scientists. The international nature of this project will provide the platform for improving the network of collaborative research and will be used for development of further exciting research opportunities for undergraduate students, as well as enrichment in students' educational and cultural experiences. Conference webpage will be created on the University of Tennessee Center for Environmental Biotechnology’s website where the program, its mission, the list of participants, and a summary of delivered metrics will be published for public access.

The International Conference on Biology and Biotechnology of Thermophilic Microorganisms.

Thermophiles and hyperthermophiles are found in most geothermally-heated regions of the Earth, such as hot springs in Yellowstone National Park (1) and Kamchatka (2), deep sea hydrothermal vents (3), as well as biogenically-heated areas such as decaying plant matter (4), peat bogs (5) and compost (6). One of the most poorly biologically-studied thermal regions is the Caucasus Mountains, which is considered to be a non-volcanic region where geothermal energy is produced by the collision of three continental plates at a triple-point (7). Numerous hot springs are found on the flanks of the triple-point and in isolated pockets in the Caucasus (7). In addition to the hot springs, a number of geothermal wells have been drilled to depths of 1 – 2 km, producing groundwater with temperatures from 50° to 105°C (7, 8). Georgia is known to be one of the richest countries in terms of hot groundwater resources, however not all of Georgia’s groundwater resources have been yet identified. There is wide variation in groundwater characteristics both in terms of chemical composition and temperature (8, 9). The main chemical composition of the groundwater is sodium-bicarbonate, whereas mineral content of the water is associated with stratigraphic horizons. Three main groups of mineral waters have been found in the region: waters without specific dominant components, sulfide-rich waters, and iodine-bromine-rich waters (8). Water with low mineralization (< 1.0 g L-1) is widely used for drinking while thermal waters and mineral waters with high mineralization are used for medicinal purposes and as heat resources. The thermal waters from certain boreholes are rich in methane, iodine-bromine, chloride, hydrocarbons, boron, silica, sodium and calcium with a total mineralization of 12-13 g L-1 (8). The natural mineral water may contain indigenous microorganisms, genes and enzymes with valuable characteristics involved in biosynthetic and biodegradative pathways.

The current proposal will lay the basis for the exploratory screening of a vast diversity of microorganisms maintained at the Durmishidze Institute of Biochemistry and Biotechnology (DIBB), Tbilisi, Georgia, as well as the isolation of novel microorganisms from the thermal subsurface aquifers. A use of new expertise, next generation sequencing and bioinformatics approaches will be discussed with respect to searching novel enzymes and metabolic pathways with biotechnologically relevant applications.

Objectives.

  1. Present and discuss ongoing research at the International Conference on “Biology and Biotechnology of Thermophilic Microorganisms” held in Tbilisi with participation of internationally recognized scientists. Conference participants will present and discuss their research.
    1. Visit and evaluate collections of thermophilic microorganisms located at the DIBB, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Georgia is in one of the most environmentally diverse regions in the world, experiencing extremes of high and low temperatures, pH and salinity (Fig. 1). During the last few decades numerous microorganisms have been isolated from various extreme sites and different soil-climatic zones of Georgia. A collection of microorganisms including bacteria (>3,000 strains), fungi (>2,500 strains), actinobacteria (1,200 strains), and yeasts (500 strains) are located at the DIBB. Less than 25% of strains from this collection are characterized. Most of the thermopiles listed in the collection have been isolated from Shiraki Steppe (Fig. 1) located in the southeastern region of Georgia within a distance of 160-180 km from Tbilisi. This 35-km2 area belongs to the Artesian basin zone of the Georgian belt and has an arid continental climate with summer (June, July, August) air temperatures reaching above 55°C and semi-desert vegetation (10). This region with various thermal sites represents a very good place for the isolation of thermophilic microorganisms and studying their environmental distribution and biodiversity. Other areas for isolation of thermophiles are the thermal sulfuric hot springs and sulfur deposits located near Tbilisi.

The thermophilic microorganisms in the DIBB collection include thermophilic fungi (up to 25 strains), thermophilic actinobacteria (30 strains), and other thermophilic bacteria (above 20 strains) including Clostridium thermocellum (anaerobic cellulose decomposer) and Clostridium thermosacharo-liticum. A total of 40 anaerobic sugar fermenting strains with optimum growth in the range of 55°-65°C have been isolated from the thermal sulfur deposits of Lisi Lake (Tbilisi suburbs), slime of the Paliaostom Lake (340 km from Tbilisi, in West Georgia), and from the Gareji desert (140 km from Tbilisi). There are no archaea in the collection. Currently these strains are stored at -20°C in glycerol.

  1. Discuss the application of next-generation omics approaches to (a) study biodiversity, and (b) isolate, characterize and genetically modify microorganisms important in biomass conversion for fuel production or bioremediation.

According to experimental test results conducted on microorganisms from the DIBB collection, more than 300 strains have been identified as extremophiles including thermophiles, alkaliphiles, acidophiles, and halophiles. Many of these strains are active producers of different enzymes and/or low molecular weight secondary metabolites. Some of these enzymes and secondary metabolites may carry useful properties for the development of economically feasible biotechnological processes and approaches.

 

Intellectual Merit:

The Caucasus Mountains located between the Black and the Caspian seas is rich in deposits of various minerals, oil and gas, as well as mineral waters and thermal springs. This region is poised for major discoveries, since the thermal features here have not undergone intensive study with advanced methods. Some information exists in the form of microbial isolates, but to our knowledge state-of-the art “omics” techniques have never been applied to these isolates or this environment. The proposed here an international workshop to take place in Tbilisi, Georgia, will bring together scientists to discuss what is known about the diversity and distribution of thermophilic microorganisms in little-known thermal sites of the Caucasus. During the conference, the unique collection of microorganisms isolated from various thermal sites including deep subsurface thermal aquifers will be discussed. The microorganisms and sites they were isolated from will be documented and systemized, so that follow-up studies and collaborations can be developed. The round table sessions will discuss the application of next generation omics techniques and bioinformatics for studying diversity and discovering novel strains with valuable characteristics. This will lead to innovative strategies and improvement of the current biotechnological processes. The uniqueness of this environment, its lack of in-depth microbial analyses, and the near-absence of previous international collaborations means research in this environment is poised for the kind of breakthroughs supported by the EAGER program.


Conference results and their dissemination.

  • The conference summary will be published in advance of the conference at the University of Tennessee Center for Environmental Biotechnology’s website and at the local universities in Tbilisi We intend to formulate a ‘state-of-the-science’ opinion article for publication in a journal such as the FEMS Microbiology Reviews and work toward a collection of research papers for inclusion in a special issue of Extremophiles.
  • A complete database of microorganisms from the DIBB collections will be compiled and published on the website of the DIBB, Tbilisi, Georgia. Public access to this database will be granted and its availability advertised on U.S. participant websites and within resulting publications.
  • The thermophiles preliminarily identified as microorganisms with unique qualities will represent a basis for collaborative proposal applications, which may include whole genome sequencing, genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic analyses and uncovering pathways for possible genetic modifications to allow their over-production.
  • Discussions on the biodiversity, biology and biotechnology of thermophilic microorganisms will establish a foundation for continued collaborative publications and funding submissions.

 

partners

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