Exploring cave microbial biodiversity in the Azores: a metagenomic and metabolomic approach to natural product discovery.

  • Estado
  • Nome
    Isabel Maria Amorim do Rosário
  • Entidade de acolhimento
    CIRN – Centro de Investigação de Recursos Naturais dos Açores


The main goal of this project is the discovery of novel natural products with potential therapeutic properties or industrial applications. The chances of isolating new secondary metabolites is maximized by exploring biodiversity of untapped ecosystems (caves) and using a combination of sequence and bioinformatic based approaches to prioritize microbial strains for culture trials and chemical analyses.

The emergence of super resistant bacteria, strains with resistance to multiple antibiotics, poses a serious clinical challenge. As the antibiotics available are no longer effective against several bacteria strains, new drugs are in urgent demand to face a potential global health crises. The scientific community has been rallied to search for new bioactive compounds, which is exactly what I propose to do in my project: to mine unusual taxa from cave sourced microorganisms for novel natural products.
Another objective of my proposal is to identify the microorganisms (taxonomic assignment) found in microbial mats in caves of the Azores. This will provide a more accurate assessment of regional biodiversity in natural habitats, which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to include microorganisms. Most scientists agree that we are facing a worldwide biodiversity crises with species going extinct at increasingly faster rates, particularly in fragile ecosystems such as oceanic islands. Society has grown more aware of the need to protect biodiversity as it ultimately translate in better quality of life. But in order to design protection plans that will success at conserving the full amount of diversity of life present in a specific region one first needs as complete as possible biodiversity inventories. I propose to assess the biodiversity of cave microbial communities and that information will be added to Azorean biodiversity databases, which will provide a better platform upon which to design protection plans that target the conservation of present levels of biodiversity in the Azores. As presented in one of the project’s tasks, I also intent to produce a collection of cultures of bacterial strains that produce secondary metabolites with potential medical and industrial applications. The Convention on Biological Diversity specifically mentions the protection of microorganisms in their natural environment as well as the importance of maintaining culture collections based on their biotechnology potential. The objectives of my project are therefore clearly in line with international policies of biodiversity inventory and conservation.
Further goals of this project include a better understanding of the molecules (secondary metabolites) microorganism use to interact in their ecosystems (chemical ecology) and of how microorganism are spatially distributed (microbial biogeography).
Finally, an additional goal/expectation of this project is that the expertise acquired throughout this project will allow the establishment of a local biotech company to explore regional sustainable biological resources: natural products with therapeutic or industrial potential produced by Azorean cave bacteria.