Salt pans of Pedra de Lume, Sal Island, Cabo Verde

Academics from Edge Hill University are exploring extreme environments in the hope of discovering new species of microbes that will help conserve the salterns in Cabo Verde, and assist future developments in biotechnology.

After devoting most of his research life to the study of microbial communities thriving in marine and extreme environments, Dr André Antunes, Senior Lecturer in Microbial Genetics, is leading the project which has received funding from the Global Challenges Research Fund.

André is working with Dr Marta Filipa Simões, Junior Research Fellow in the Biology department, Dr James Rowson,, Lecturer in Earth Sciences in the Geography department, and they are collaborating with Aires da Moura and Hélio Rocha from the Jean Piaget University of Cabo Verde (formerly known as Cape Verde).

This year-long project will survey microbial diversity in salterns on three islands in Cabo Verde (Sal, Boavista, and Maio), formerly used for the production of salt but now mostly abandoned and under threat from construction pressure in coastal areas. These are neglected areas that have seen a decrease in jobs and increase in poverty, and this project will help reverse this process, promote the conservation of the sites and their natural biodiversity, while contributing to increasing their scientific and economic value.

Once samples are collected, microbes will be isolated, characterised, preserved and made available for future studies. They will also be screened for biotechnological potential including production of enzymes, bioplastics, biominerals, and anti-microbial compounds.

“Extreme environments such as these are unique sources of exotic new microbes, which are frequently seen as the solution to many of our current issues: feeding, fueling, and healing the world,” said André. “This funding will give us vital insights into the microbial communities of these threatened high salinity environments, and allow us to capture and preserve relevant new microbial species as well as identify potential applications.”

As they are analysing locations that have never been studied before, André thinks it is highly likely that they will make significant new discoveries, including the isolation of novel microbial species..

The samples will be collected at the end of May and brought back to the UK for analysis. The researchers and microbiologists from Cabo Verde will spend the summer on campus working alongside academics from Edge Hill in the Tech Hub’s new Microbiology facilities.

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.