Soil sediments of microbes from Abu Dhabi’s mangroves collected by Masdar team

ABU DHABI: A team of faculty and students of Masdar Institute have successfully collected soil sediments that are closely associated with roots of mangrove trees in Abu Dhabi for novel enzymes, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, announced today.

The mangrove ecosystem in the UAE is unique, characterized by higher than average salinities and temperatures that may be tolerable to a select number of microbes.

These microbes could produce biomass degrading enzymes with ‘unique’ characteristics that have biotechnological utility.

The enzymes from this environment are known to have a wider activity range under high salt concentrations and temperatures.

The collection of soil sediments was part of a project titled ‘Molecular and Biochemical Screening of Mangrove Sediments in Abu Dhabi for Biomass Degrading Enzymes’.

This is being undertaken by Dr. Lina F. Yousef, Water Environment and Engineering (WEE) programme, and Dr. Andreas Henschel of the Computing and Information System (CIS) programme, who are the Principal Investigators. Dr. Farrukh Ahmad, Associate Professor, WEE, is a co-Principal Investigator. Other members of the group include Areej Al-Sheikh, S2EM Lab Manager / Research Engineer, WEE programme, and students Naeema Al Nofeli, Sumaya Al Hosani and Celia Lopez.

“The trip was successful with students learning proper techniques for soil sampling, sample-handling and storage. The sediments are currently being analyzed at the S2EM lab for their physical, chemical and biological properties,” Dr. Lina Yousef, said.

“We are screening mangrove root sediments for novel biomass degrading enzymes using a culture independent ‘omics’ approach. This approach involves the study of many genomes (metagenomics), gene transcripts (metatranscriptomics), and proteins (proteomics) – all at once from an environmental sample. This holistic approach will provide information on resident microbial communities and their relevant enzymatic activities in mangrove sediments of the UAE,” she added.

Approximately 99% of soil microbes cannot be cultured and studied in the lab. However, these unknown microbes are potential sources of new drugs, enzymes and other macromolecules with biotechnological utility. Fortunately, recent advances in molecular biology have enabled researches to study these microbes in their natural environment without having to culture them into artificial media.

The ‘Molecular and Biochemical Screening of Mangrove Sediments in Abu Dhabi for Biomass Degrading Enzymes’ project is funded through the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Centre, dedicated to the development of an Integrated Sea Water Agricultural System in Abu Dhabi.

The project signifies several benefits to the UAE because a metagenomic approach to study environmental samples has rarely been attempted in the region before. Additionally, there is no information available on the microbial communities and/or their activities in mangrove sediments of the UAE.

The outcomes of the research are expected to provide information on the efficiency of microbial populations present in sediments of mangroves in the UAE to process recalcitrant material such as cellulose. This may suggest the presence of microbes with the characteristics suitable for other environmental applications including pesticide and contaminant degradation.

The Sustainable Soil and Environmental Microbiology Lab at Masdar Institute that conducted the first sampling trip in the mangrove areas, is mandated to apply world class research to support technological advancements in preserving the UAE’s natural resource.

The lab aims to develop a better understanding of microbial ecology in natural and engineered environments, manage the limited soil resource for improved agricultural productivity, with a focus on Arid soils, as well as develop ecological restoration tools for degraded and/or carbon poor soils. It also seeks to devise low cost, and natural strategies to fix carbon in soils, while devising solutions for the sustainable production of biomass.

Serving as a key pillar of innovation and human capital, Masdar Institute remains fundamental to Masdar’s core objectives of developing Abu Dhabi’s knowledge economy and finding solutions to humanity’s toughest challenges such as climate change.

Established as an on-going collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Masdar Institute integrates theory and practice to incubate a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, working to develop the critical thinkers and leaders of tomorrow. With its world-class faculty and top-tier students, the Institute is committed to finding solutions to the challenges of clean energy and climate change through education and research.

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