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Content archived on 2024-05-24

Deep-sea hydrothermal vents: a natural pollution laboratory


Problems to be solved (while also addressing the relevant EU policies)
From an applied perspective, the hydrothermal environment provides a useful analogue of anthropogenically polluted marine environments, with the notable and important difference that the complex biological communities which live around deep-sea vents can be traced back in the fossil record to at least the Mesozoic era, thus having allowed sufficient time for the evolution of special adaptations to evolve to combat environmental toxicity. These novel biochemical and molecular adaptations have the potential for important biotechnological discoveries. VENTOX thus has important wealth creation and quality of life implications.
Scientific objectives and approach
The aim of this research project is to carry out innovative research into the specialised adaptations and processes found in representatives of the mid-Atlantic deep-sea hydrothermal vent fauna and its associated microbial populations. The goal being to identify those special adaptations that vent organism posses that have evolved to deal with their highly stressful and toxic environment. An important part of VENTOX will be the establishment of a shore-based deep-sea laboratory in the Azores (LABHORTA), to which cages of vent organisms will be transferred at intervals to provide research material. Another innovative component of the VENTOX project is the use of the IPOCAMP hyperbaric chamber in which vent organisms will be studied under natural pressure conditions. From a fundamental perspective, considerable effort will go into establishing the micro-scale distribution of vent communities, and quantifying the chemical conditions under which specific species live and the toxicant burdens found in their tissues. These measurements will provide the basis for the molecular, biochemical and physiological studies which will be carried out mainly at LabHorta on vent crustaceans, mussels and gastropods, to provide valuable new insights into their heavy metal, pH, temperature, CO2 and sulphide tolerances, bacterial and mega faunal production rates, rates of DNA damage and repair, and the identification of endosymbiont-mediated detoxification processes relevant to bioremediation.
Expected impacts
While the fundamental aim of VENTOX is to extend our knowledge of the conditions experienced by vent organisms and the special adaptations they have evolved to resist toxicant stress, an important secondary objective is the generation of findings and material that will be of relevance to SME-based exploitation in the fields of biochemistry (DNA repair enzymes), deep-sea pressure technology (flow-through pressure chamber, IPOCAMP) and microbial biotechnology (e.g. detoxification and bioremediation).

Call for proposal

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EU contribution
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Empress Dock
United Kingdom

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Total cost
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Participants (9)