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Systems Biology Technology and Ecological Restoration

Biological technology has been developing rapidly to eliminate environmental pollutants and produce renewable energy. In particular, the development of various ‘omics’ technologies (such as metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metaproteomics, and metabonomics) and the so-called “Big Science” subjects (including biology, systematics, and informatics) has created the field of systems biology. Systems biology can help understand the mechanisms governing the interactions between microbes and the environment, thus improving the efficiency of environmental remediation. In addition, systems biology can provide new approaches to constructing and manipulating the community of functional microbes for maintaining environmental functions in a sustainable manner.

In the coming years, IAE will fully utilize domestic and international resources and opportunities to conduct basic research in systems biology and develop novel microbiological technologies for more efficient treatment and restoration of polluted soil and water. Research areas include, but are not limited to: (1) Environmental biotechnology (e.g. discovering microorganisms with novel properties) to clean up toxic pollutants and restore ecosystems damaged by human activities; (2) Genomic and metagenomic studies of terrestrial and estuarine microbes to understand various interfacial processes and biofilm formation and to track invasive microbes (i.e. viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and microalgae) discharged from waste treatment systems; (3) Environmental sensors and indicators for on-site continuous real-time monitoring; (4) Modeling of microbial metabolic fluxes in cells and ecosystems to reveal the genetic diversity and unknown functions of microorganisms that are critical to biodegradation of contaminants; (5) Ecotoxicology for health risk assessment and environmental molecular diagnostics; and (6) Multi-phase technology for the delivery of microbes and bio-agents to the subsurface environment for effective bioremediation.

Our efforts in these six areas are expected to produce valuable information about key organisms and processes governing the degradation of various types of contaminants in different environments.

To implement the aforementioned research, six research groups ¾ Environmental Molecular Science, Ecotoxicology, Environmental Engineering, Soil Pollution, Pollution Ecology, and Environmental Physics ¾ will undertake collaborative efforts to achieve specific objectives in each research area. This cross-disciplinary team consists of 30 research scientists, 22 Ph.D. students, and 34 Master’s students. One member of the team is the lead principal investigator of a national “973 Project”; two are Distinguished Young scholars of the Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC); and four are “Hundred-Talent Program” scientists of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The majority have been engaged in long-term collaboration with international communities.

This research will take advantage of the expertise of IAE scientists in molecular and biological sciences and the availability of advanced facilities and equipment managed by the CAS Key Laboratory of Pollution Ecology and Environmental Engineering. The scientists of this multi-group team have been using systems science to improve the understanding of the interactions between microbes and ecosystems and create a new generation of sustainable tools and strategies that can be deployed to address the challenge of environmental pollution. The Pollution Ecology Group has screened out efficient microbial strains capable of degrading contaminants in soils. The Environmental Engineering Group has produced significant technical advances in the systematic research of electro-kinetic bioremediation and demonstrated the technology at pilot and industry scales. The Soil Pollution Group has identified multi-differential expression genes in earthworms, which establishes the basis for understanding the mechanisms of toxicity induced by low concentrations of PAHs. This group also identified alternative molecular markers for soil pollution monitoring. By selecting representative organisms and adopting the latest technologies of molecular biology, cell biology, and ecological toxicology, the Ecotoxicology Group has clarified the interactions between toxic substances and earthworms and identified subsequent changes at the molecular level.

The overarching vision for the IAE in systems biology and ecological restoration is to better understand and utilize the fundamental concepts of systems biology to investigate pathways of environmental stress response from the nano and molecular to the ecosystem levels. We aim to improve our knowledge of microbial ecology and biogeochemistry by developing innovative technologies for environmental remediation, water protection, and ecosystem health. The results of this research will yield: 1) Innovative waste treatment technologies and simulation models (e.g., aerobic bioremediation of landfill refuse); 2) Development of new models to predict the fate of harmful materials; 3) Bioremediation technologies with efficient and predictable outcomes; and 4) Technological applications of on-site monitoring and low-cost reclamation in partnership with industry. This program will contribute to the development of novel technologies for addressing a wide range of environmental problems.




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