Marine sediments constitute important sinks in the cycling of persistent organic contaminants released into our biosphere. Yet, sediments storing old discharges have now become major environmental pollution sources accounting for the propagation of organic contaminants and subsequent adverse effects along marine food chains worldwide. Thorough understanding of sedimentary biogeochemical and ecological processes affecting organic contaminant fate is thus crucial for accurate predictions of contaminant effect s on marine food webs. Microbes, especially bacteria, are considered main organic contaminant degraders in sediments and are thus highly important for ecosystem decontamination. Our present understanding of microbial contaminant degradation in marine sediments is limited, yet macrofaunal bioturbation appear highly important, and macrofaunal burrow linings were recently identified as hot spots for the microbial degradation of organic contaminants.
The main research objective is to explore the influence of burrowing macrofauna on microbial community diversity and microbial PAH (polyaromatic hydrocarbon) degradation in marine sediments. New molecular techniques (PCR-DGGE, RT-PCR) will be used to measure microbial diversity, and the presence/expression of microb ial PAH catabolic genes, along with traditional PAH degradation analyses. The fusion of molecular techniques, marine sediment ecotoxicology, and benthic ecology is a unique innovative aspect of the proposed research, involving extensive interdisciplinarity.
Aside from creating new knowledge on macrofaunal-microbial structure-function relationships in sediments, essential for the management of marine resources and habitats globally, the proposed project will generate a new ecotoxicological research direction. The high complementarity of the research training will strongly reinforce my scientific career by diversifying my ecotoxicological perspective while at the same time adding cutting edge focus.
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