EMBL Courses and Conferences during the Coronavirus pandemic
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Víctor de Lorenzo
National Center for Biotechnology, Spain
Bioremediation at a global scale: From the Petri dish to planet Earth
Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology have undergone a dramatic transition from being a somewhat marginal branch of Life Sciences to becoming one of the most vibrant and visible areas of contemporary research. New challenges have acquired an unanticipated relevance owing to their impact on the global Earth's homeostasis. They include the unacceptably high atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, the worrying pollution of the oceans with very recalcitrant plastics and microplastics and the noxious effects of micropollutants on many ecosystems. Global problems ask for global solutions and the environmental microbiome—because of its dimension and its amazing activities—may end up being our best instrument to both counter the impact of industrial development and enable a new, sustainable partnership with Nature.
While the whole planet is afflicted at a global scale by chemical pollution and anthropogenic emissions, the ongoing development of systems and synthetic biology, modern chemistry and some key concepts from ecological theory allow us to tackle this phenomenal challenge and propose large-scale interventions aimed at reversing and even improving this state of affairs. This involves [i] identification of key reactions or processes that need to be re-established (or altogether created) for ecosystem reinstallation, [ii] implementation of such reactions in natural or designer hosts able to self-replicate and deliver the corresponding activities when/where needed in a fashion guided by sound ecological modelling, [iii] dispersal of niche-creating agents at a global scale and [iv] containment, monitoring and risk assessment of the whole process. The pillar of this new scenario includes a deep engineering of microorganisms as live chassis for delivering beneficial activities and multi-scale environmental interventions for pollution prevention/remediation (including climatic change). Current advances in the use of environmental bacteria as SynBio chassis of choice for meeting some of these environmental objectives will be addressed.
Víctor de Lorenzo (Madrid, 1957) is a Chemist by training and he holds a position of Research Professor in the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), where he currently heads the Laboratory of Environmental Molecular Microbiology at the National Center for Biotechnology. After his PhD at the UAM Madrid (1983), he worked at the Pasteur Institute (1984), the UC Berkeley (1985-1987), the Univ of Geneva (1988) and the Federal Center for Biotechnology in Braunschweig (GBF) until 1991, the year in which he joined the CSIC in Spain. He specializes in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology of soil microorganisms (particularly Pseudomonas putida) as agents for the decontamination of sites damaged by industrial waste. His current research attempts to develop the genetic software and the matching instruments for breaking the barriers between biological and non-biological reactions with an eye on global bioremediation interventions.