Ongoing projects

Strategic application of beneficial bacteria to bioremediate atmospheric polyaromatic hydrocarbons. 01/07/2020 - 30/06/2024

Abstract

The main objective of this project is to acquire new biological and genetic insights on the application of microorganisms as bioremediation of PAHs in air pollution. Such new insights will lead to a scientific underpinning of a new air purification application based on the spread of benign bacteria in the environment.

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OPTIMISE: Advanced biOreactors and Processing equipmenT for culturIng beneficial MIcrobeS to higher yiElds. 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2024

Abstract

Beneficial microbes have a plethora of biomedical, environmental and engineering applications. Currently, many fundamental and more applied R&D projects are slowed down by the need for advanced equipment for the upscaling and processing of the microbial cultures. Here, a research consortium of bio-engineers, civil engineers, biologists and pharmaceutical engineers was built to jointly advance the applications and research of beneficial microbes at UAntwerpen. This consortium aims to manage joint equipment and expertise. The core of the equipment is a 100 l pilot bioreactor suited for bacteria, yeasts and algae. It is fully computer controlled and monitored, and equipped with a steam-in-place (SIP) unit. The system is equipped with several sensors and valves allowing automated control of important parameters (e.g. pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, turbidity, …). The whole system is GMP- compatible and in pharmaceutical- grade steel. A 10 l bioreactor is foreseen for optimizing culturing conditions. The reactors are complemented with an incubator-shaker for the growth of inocula and postprocessing equipment to professionally process the biomass. The post-processing equipment mainly consists of a large scale, low- to- high speed cooled centrifuge and a pilot spray dryer for final processing for extended shelf life of the biomass and work up of the biomass towards its final application.

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Advancing Lactobacillus' beneficial potential (Lacto-Be). 01/03/2020 - 29/02/2024

Abstract

Lactobacillus bacteria have a strong, but underexplored potential as sustainable bio-based solutions for many food and health-related problems. Since Nobel-laureate Eli Metchnikoff hypothesized that lactic acid bacteria can promote human health in the gut, the research on lactobacilli and probiotics has mainly focused on the human gut and fermented dairy foods. However, a major knowledge gap exists on the beneficial potential of Lactobacillus species in other human body sites (vagina, skin, upper respiratory tract), animals (e.g. chickens, honey bees), plants, crops, and even on abiotic surfaces. In addition, lactobacilli play a key role in many plant- and vegetable-based fermentations, where they promote the shelf life and nutritional value of food and feed. Yet, why and how Lactobacillus species can be beneficial in such a wide variety of niches is currently underexplored. Therefore, the core aim of this project is a systematic and integrated analysis of the evolutionary history, ecology, and beneficial functions of Lactobacillus species. I propose an unconventional approach situated at the intersections of molecular microbiology (focusing on a single microbe), molecular ecology (focusing on microbial communities) and comparative genomics with an evolutionary perspective on niche adaptation of lactobacilli. By looking deeper into Lactobacillus biology, a paradigm shift can be made moving from a classical ad hoc base to a unique knowledge-based framework for strain selection and analysis of fitness and performance.

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Biodiversity at school environments benefits for all (B@SEBALL). 15/12/2019 - 15/03/2024

Abstract

In our rapidly urbanizing world, chronic health conditions associated with urban living are on the rise. One of the main current challenges is unravelling the role of reduced access to and reduced quality and quantity of nature and biodiversity in these living environments. Enhanced immune functioning emerges as one promising candidate for a central pathway between nature and health. Despite mounting evidence that people with a diverse microbiome or who interact with green spaces enjoy better health, studies have yet to directly examine how biodiverse urban green spaces might modify the human microbiome and reduce chronic disease. Another challenge is to enhance access to nature for all, which is unevenly distributed among social groups with different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. In this project, the environmental microbiome, defined as the microbes in soil, on plants, and associated with air dust, will be targeted, as well as its social distribution.

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Enhancing the probiotic beneficial potential of the genus Lactobacillus. 01/12/2019 - 01/12/2021

Abstract

Background The bacterial genus Lactobacillus has historically been the source of many strains with supposed but also proven health benefits. The selection of strains with potential health benefits has always been performed on a rather ad hoc basis based on knowledge on the isolation source of the strain and on expensive and labor-intensive lab screenings. Now that we are able to sequence whole genomes of many bacterial strains relatively cheaply it has become possible, in theory, to identify genomic signatures of strains with potential health benefits to be used for more informed, and more upscalable, screening. For some well-studied probiotic properties, the gene families encoding them have been identified and can therefore be used for probiotic screening. An example are the pili of the well-known probiotic strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG that are responsible for adhesion to the human colon epithelium. The gene cluster encoding these pili has been identified and the presence of this cluster can easily be identified in a given bacterial genome. Pili, as well as other potentially probiotic properties, can now already be used as screening criteria for potential probiotic strains. Systematic screening of genomes for these properties has only been performed in a limited way; the most comprehensive study to date included more than 200 species of Lactobacillus, but was limited to only one representative strain per species, while many of these genes are known to be very strain-specific and many more genomes are publicly available. A second way to improve genomic screening for probiotic potential is to systematically identify, on a large scale, genomic signatures associated with Lactobacillus strains engaging in symbiotic relations with Homo sapiens. These genomic signatures can be the presence of certain gene families, such as the gene cluster encoding the pili of LGG, but also gene copy numbers or even the presence of certain pieces of DNA gained from the environment, such as viral genomes or transposons, that betray the habitat of the strain. Goals The goal of this project is to enhance the potential of the genus Lactobacillus as a source of strains with potential health benefits. We aim to do this in two ways. First, we want to characterize already known gene families that encode probiotic properties by assessing their distribution across the more than 2000 Lactobacillus genomes that are publicly available. We will also assess their presence in the more than 100 genomes of strains isolated and sequenced by our own lab. Our second goal is to identify genomic signatures of symbiotic relations with humans as a species. Since we don't know on beforehand which strains are symbiotic for most of the publicly available genomes, we will perform this search in an unsupervised manner. To put it differently: we will look for sets of genomes that are not necessarily closely related, but underwent similar adaptations in their recent evolutionary history. We will look, in other words, for convergent evolution. If we succeed in finding groups of strains that underwent convergent evolution, we can assess whether already known probiotic strains are part of one or more of these groups. This would be a strong indication that other strains within these groups will also show probiotic potential.

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Research team(s)

Evolutionary genomics of lactobacilli. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Lactobacilli are an interesting group of bacteria found in a large variety of ecosystems, from the human gut to milk to plant surfaces and other environments. They are used in food fermentations and as health-promoting bacteria. It is not yet clear how lactobacilli are able to survive and thrive in these different environments. Did Lactobacillus strains adapt, each to a specific environment? Or are some strains "nomads", able to survive in many different environments? We will attempt to solve the adaptation question in two ways. First, we will study gene copynumber variation between Lactobacillus strains. The DNA of a bacterial strain can contain multiple copies of a single gene, and this copy-number can differ between strains. It was recently observed that copy-number variation in gut bacteria is often found in genes linked to environmental adaptation. As a second way to investigate environmental adaptation, we will reconstruct the evolutionary history of the Lactobacilli. Bacterial strains can evolve in multiple ways; two important types of evolutionary events are that they can acquire genes from other bacteria or genes can get lost. We will use the full DNA sequences of at least fifty strains per species to find out which genes were acquired and which ones were lost by which ancestors in the course of evolution. We can then see whether there is a connection between these gene gain and loss events and the environment in which these ancestors lived.

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Research team(s)

ReLACT: Intranasal probiotics against respiratory viral infections. 01/10/2019 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is the leading cause of severe lower respiratory disease in young children worldwide. Nearly all children are exposed to RSV by the age of 2, approximately 40 % will develop a lower respiratory tract infection such as bronchiolitis and up to 10 % of these children require hospitalization. Severe inflammation is a typical hallmark of the hospitalized children. Despite the discovery of the virus in 1956, prevention and treatment options for RSV are limited. In this project, an innovative approach based on the intranasal application of specific probiotic strains is explored to prevent the severe lung inflammation that follows the acute infection. We will investigate whether delivery of intranasal probiotics prior to RSV infection can prevent the development of severe RSV disease by functioning as immunomodulatory agents that can reduce RSV-associated inflammation. Furthermore, we will test if delivery of an RSV vaccine together with intranasal probiotics enhances both safety and efficacy of this vaccine.

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Phyllosphere bacteria: a hidde, nature-based solution in our battle against air pollution? 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Air pollution is a major environmental and social issue, causing a vast array of negative health effects. Approximately 7 million deaths and an economical cost of 3.28 trillion euros worldwide can be attributed to air pollution. In this research a new, promising method will be tested to fight high urban air pollution levels. More specifically, the potential of leaf-dwelling or phyllosphere bacteria (PB) to degrade urban air pollutants (particulate matter and volatile organic compounds) into less toxic forms, also called bioremediation potential. This will be done with both field and laboratory experiments. The project is divided into four workpackages (WP). In WP1, the different PB present on 70 plant species will be determined and their preferences for leaf characteristics will be tested. WP2 will map which PB typically occur under high levels of urban pollutants and how they change through the growing season. In WP3 the specific bioremediation potential of promising PB will be tested and in WP4 all these results will be brought together. Then the first realistic numbers of what the application of the right plant-PB-combination could mean for the ambient urban pollutant levels will be estimated on the basis of computer models. The ultimate aim of this research is to find the optimal plant-PB-combination to optimize the bioremediation potential of vegetation in the city.

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Exploring the bioremediation ans application potential of phyllosphere bacteria (PHYLOBACT). 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

A specific microbial habitat exists where the atmosphere and plant meet. It is called the phyllosphere and is usually dominated by the leaf surfaces. All plant leaves, worldwide, are estimated to cover a surface area that approximates twice the global land surface. The phyllosphere can therefore be considered as a vast microbial habitat, with great potential importance. Recent advances in microbial DNA sequencing approaches have significantly improved our insights in these microbial ecosystems: a few pioneering studies –including from the applying consortium- have now documented that the phyllosphere harbours diverse bacterial communities shaped by both plant physical characteristics and metabolism, and environmental conditions. In turn, decades of physiological research has yet demonstrated that these epiphytic bacteria can affect the host plant by preventing colonization of certain plant pathogens and encouraging plant growth, among other effects. Air pollution and its adverse health effects are still increasing worldwide. Particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), soot, diesel exhaust particles and heavy metals are among the most problematic air pollutants. Adverse health effects include heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases like asthma, Alzheimer's disease and cancer. Various technological solutions to remove air pollutants have yet been developed, of which catalytic filters and motor adaptations have probably made the largest impact on the filtration of polluted exhaust gases. Also for indoor application, various air purification systems exist, but they are mostly chemical, physical or photocatalytic oxidation. There is a clear need for more sustainable, bio- and nature-based solutions to combat air pollution. Bioremediation is the use of microorganisms to degrade or transform environmental contaminants into their less toxic forms. In this project, a novel bioremediation approach is explored, i.e. the potential application of plant-associated bacteria of the phyllosphere to degrade or remove specific air pollutants from the ambient air.

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Coupling the inhibition effect of bacteria with amperometric readout for the detection of antibiotics (BACSENS). 01/01/2019 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Most of the farmers and industries rely on the microbial inhibition tests as a screening tool for a broad range of antibiotics because it is natural, intuitive, and simple enough to be operated by non-specialists outside laboratories. Unfortunately, it suffers from drawbacks such as long analysis time and sensitivity issues. To improve the on-site screening test, we introduce the pioneering idea to couple cost effective and sensitive amperometric sensors with bacterial inhibition tests. Our method will lower the risks for public health and operational costs for industries.

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Research team(s)

Niche specificity and niche flexibility of lactobacilli: exploring novel adhesive mechanisms 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

In this project, we aim to use a combination of bio-informatic and experimental approaches to explore important aspects of niche flexibility and functions of Lactobacillus strains, using the Lactobacillus casei/rhamnosus group as case study. Here, niche-adaptation of these bacteria will be explored for rather unexplored niches, namely fermented vegetables (carrots), the human vagina and the human respiratory tract, starting from isolates, which are in- house available through previous projects. Experiments will include niche-swap experiments, experimental evolution and functional analyses by constructed knock-out mutants. Special attention in this PhD project will be directed towards the role of adhesion in niche colonization. In previous research, a new type of fimbriae was found in L. casei and this will be further explored and molecularly characterized in this PhD project.

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Research team(s)

Green roofs and walls as a source for ecosystem services in future cities (ECOCITIES). 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

EcoCities is an integrated and comparative analysis of different types of green walls and green roofs. Essentially it is investigated: - which is the interaction between different parameters (substrate, plant species etc.) of different types of green walls and green roofs and ecosystem services in an urban environment - an integrated evaluation of the deliverable ecosystem services

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Investigating microbial therapies to combat gut microbiome dysbiosis during pelvic irradiation. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Pelvic irradiation is a common treatment strategy for various cancers such as colon cancer and cervical cancer. High irradiation doses result in many side effects such as diarrhea, inflammation and microbiome dysbiosis. In this project, the effect of Arthrospira on many of these side effects will be explored at a molecular level, in a mouse model developed at SCK. These effects will be compared with the model probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG. Growth of Arthrospira will also be optimized.

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Connectivity of green and blue infrastructures: living veins for biodiverse and healthy cities (BIOVEINS-BE). 01/03/2017 - 30/11/2020

Abstract

The main objective of our BIOVEINS project is to use functional diversity (FD) to highlight the mechanisms underpinning the link between GBI, taxonomic diversity (TD) and ecosystem services (ESs) provisioning, and to provide, together with local stakeholders, the ecological and interdisciplinary knowledge to identify the critica/ features of GBI, to guide the establishment; management and restoration of GBI, and to mitigate the effects of major urban global challenges, like habitat fragmentation, air pollution, and urban heat island.

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Research team(s)

Molecular microbiological and immunological studies of air pollution. 01/11/2016 - 31/10/2026

Abstract

A steady increase in chronic inflammatory diseases can be observed in regions with a high degree of industrialization and urbanization since World War II. The pro-inflammatory capacity of ambient air particulate matter and other air pollutants seems an important factor in the pathogenesis of these diseases, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. This project aims to generate more insights in the (micro)biology of air pollution by application of techniques from the fields of molecular microbiology and immunology to investigate the presence of micro-organisms and their endotoxins in particulate matter (PM) and to characterize the pro-inflammatory capacity of PM in detail.

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Past projects

Modulating the phyllosphere microbiome to increase crop production and protection. 01/01/2019 - 31/10/2019

Abstract

Plant diseases cause major losses in agriculture and are currently being eradicated with conventional or organic pesticides. Agriculture needs to become more productive as well as more sustainable to face the challenges of a growing population, climate change and other environmental problems. Protecting crops from diseases in an environmentally friendly way is a big challenge. The phyllosphere is the surface of the plant exposed to the atmosphere and it is occupied by microorganisms. The microorganims in the phyllosphere are known to interact with the plant they are inhabiting. It has been shown before that a healthy microbial population on the phyllosphere, a.k.a the phyllosphere microbiome, could help prevent or treat plant diseases and promote plant growth. Furthermore, previous research showed that a greater variety of bacteria in the phyllosphere increases plant productivity. This research aims to better understand the phyllosphere microbiome. This understanding will be used to treat and adjust the phyllosphere microbiome and thereby improve crop production and protection. Mixtures of bacteria that could have a positive effect on the plant, "plant probiotics", will be formulated. These plant probiotics will originate from isolated and cultured phyllosphere bacteria as well as from fermented compost extracts. Finally the effect of these plant probiotics on the phyllosphere microbiome and on plants will be studied.

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Research team(s)

AIRbezen@School. 01/06/2018 - 31/05/2020

Abstract

Measuring air pollution by using strawberry plants The AIRbezen project is a clever word pun on the Flemish of Antwerp dialect word for strawberries (jarrebezen) and, obviously, the word air. By examining the leaves of strawberry plants, AIRbezen maps the air quality of a city or province. Strawberry plants are distributed among families, schools or associations, who give the plant a place on the windowsill. After 2 months the strawberry-hosts cut off a few leaves and bring them in at the distribution points. The researchers at the University of Antwerp then measure the concentrations of particulate matter on the leaves, thus revealing to what the plant was exposed. AIRbezen is a real citizen science project in the sense that citizens actively participate in a research project. There is a strong interaction between participants and the University of Antwerp, whereby citizens collect data, the university interprets said data and the results flow back to the citizens. The project was successfully applied for the first time in 2014 in Antwerp, but soon expanded to schools, East Flanders and projects abroad. AIRbezen came to be thanks to a number of enthusiastic volunteers, Stadslab 2050 and the Department of Bio-Engineering Sciences of the University of Antwerp. If you have more questions about past projects or want to collaborate with us, you can reach us at AIRbezen@uantwerpen.be

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In vivo POC of potential respiratory probiotic strains (REINSPIRE). 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms which, when applied inadequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host (FAO/WHO, 2001). These microbes are generally applied in the gastrointestinal tract via fermented food products or capsules. In previous research, we isolated bacterial strains with potential probiotic properties for the upper respiratory tract based on in vitro laboratory tests and genome sequencing. Here, we want to deliver the POC that – at least one of - these strains has also interesting properties in vivo, i.e. that this strain is able to –temporarily- colonize the upper respiratory tract of healthy volunteers after oral and nasal application.

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The importance of airborne bacterial endotoxins in an urban environment 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Although not visible by the naked eye, the air is teeming with bacteria. Inevitably, these airborne bacteria are frequent visitors of the respiratory system. Endotoxins are highly inflammatory lipid components of Gram-negative bacteria. In an urban environment, they may act by heightening immune responses in the presence of other pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM). However, our knowledge on the involvement of airborne endotoxins in PM-related inflammation is restricted on the methods used for its collection, quantification and analysis. Until now, collection methods have relied on filter-based samplers which are far from ideal for the recovery of endotoxins. For this reason, our study focusses on developing a new, more efficient, non-filter based strategy for the monitoring of endotoxins in an urban environment. Our first experiments could detect much higher ambient endotoxin concentrations than the available data in the literature for urban studies. This re-sparks the debate of the importance of endotoxins in the health effects of PM. Therefore, detailed studies will be done in cell models to investigate the contribution of endotoxins in PM-associated inflammation in relevant concentrations and in comparison with other pollutants. Finally, responses to natural PM exposure will be analysed in vivo at RNA level in nasal brushing samples and compared with the responses observed in the cell models.

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Research team(s)

Evolutionary genomics of lactobacilli 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Lactobacilli are an interesting group of bacteria found in a large variety of ecosystems, from the human gut to milk to plant surfaces and other environments. They are used in food fermentations and as health-promoting bacteria. It is not yet clear how lactobacilli are able to survive and thrive in these different environments. Did Lactobacillus strains adapt, each to a specific environment? Or are some strains "nomads", able to survive in many different environments? We will attempt to solve the adaptation question in two ways. First, we will study gene copynumber variation between Lactobacillus strains. The DNA of a bacterial strain can contain multiple copies of a single gene, and this copy-number can differ between strains. It was recently observed that copy-number variation in gut bacteria is often found in genes linked to environmental adaptation. As a second way to investigate environmental adaptation, we will reconstruct the evolutionary history of the Lactobacilli. Bacterial strains can evolve in multiple ways; two important types of evolutionary events are that they can acquire genes from other bacteria or genes can get lost. We will use the full DNA sequences of at least fifty strains per species to find out which genes were acquired and which ones were lost by which ancestors in the course of evolution. We can then see whether there is a connection between these gene gain and loss events and the environment in which these ancestors lived.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Bioremediation potential of the natural phyllosphere microbiome. 01/04/2017 - 31/03/2018

Abstract

The problem of air pollution is often highly underestimated. Recent studies of both the World Health Organisation and UNICEF show the adverse effects on the human health. According to these studies, air pollution causes the death of 6.5 million people, amongst which 600,000 children under the age of 5.The biggest contributors to air pollution are the industry, traffic, indoor cooking fuels and chemical solvents. They cause a high level of air pollution, in- and outdoors, with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as one of the pollutants. Air pollution does not only affect human health. It was already noticed that the plant's phyllosphere microbiome changes under the influence of air pollution. Especially an enrichment of bacteria capable of metabolizing air pollution was noted. In this study, we want to isolate and characterize these air pollution metabolizing bacteria for the phyllosphere, by incubating them in the presence of VOCs. The genome of interesting isolates will be fully sequenced and functionally annotated. Special attention will go to the identification of VOC bioremediating genes. In the last phase of this research project, the bioremediating capacity of the isolates will be tested in an experimental setting. A young plant will be sprayed with the bioremediating bacteria, and placed in a plant chamber under controlled atmosphere. In this atmosphere, VOCs will be present. The concentration of these VOC will be followed over time, for one week. With this setup, we want to study the bioremediation capacity of the newly isolated species in a realistic experimental setting. Bacterial species capable of successfully breaking down air pollutants, can help to clean the in- and outdoor air by simply applying them to vegetation outdoors or indoors chamber plants. The applied bacteria can clean the air from their natural environment, the phyllosphere, in a sustainable way.

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Research team(s)

Innovative platform for probiotherapy: stabilizing live bacteria for cosmetic applications via micro-encapsulation 01/02/2017 - 31/01/2020

Abstract

In this project, we will explore microbiological and formulation aspects of micro-encapsulation of live bacteria for probiotherapy of skin applications through collaboration with an Industrial partner.

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Interception, retention and translocation of radionuclides in agricultural crops under greenhouse conditions, following sprinkling irrigation. 01/11/2016 - 31/10/2020

Abstract

The production and application of nuclear energy has led to enhanced radioactivity in the environment, resulting in an increased exposure of humans to ionising radiation. Among the various pathways by which humans can get exposed to ionising radiation, the uptake of radionuclides by agricultural plants is one of the most important routes. Agricultural plants can get contaminated by direct contamination of the surfaces of aerial parts of plants or by indirect contamination when radionuclides deposited on the soil are taken up by the root systems together with water and nutrients. Past experiences have shown that for most radionuclides, the contamination of the crops by interception is much higher than the indirect contamination via root uptake during the first year of a nuclear accident or if contamination occurs via yearly irrigation with contaminated water. A good estimate of the foliar uptake by plants is therefore necessary to reliably assess the exposure dose from the consumption of contaminated agricultural foodstuffs. Although foliar deposition is an important route by which plants become contaminated, the data base for modelling foliar uptake is poor. As a result, large uncertainties are associated with the contamination of food crops via the foliar pathway, yet simple approaches are used to estimate the contamination of plants via foliar uptake. It is well known that four main processes relate to the contamination of vegetation by foliar uptake. These processes are the interception by the plant surface, the retention after weathering processes have occurred, the absorption into the plant and the translocation or movement within the plant to other plant parts such as roots, fruit, etc. To overcome the large uncertainties associated with the foliar pathway, more experiments are needed to investigate these four processes as function of the element, the plant species, the stage of plant development at which the deposition occurs and the time after the contamination. Air humidity and temperature can also be important as shown by the research done on foliar fertilisation by mineral nutrients. The aim of this PhD proposal is to provide data on the interception, retention and translocation of radionuclides at different stages of plant development for wet deposition simulating sprinkling irrigation and as such contribute to a better quantification of the foliar uptake. The main research question is: Is the internal contamination of the plant ruled mainly by the leaf area index and the amount intercepted on the leaves? Other research questions are: Is it possible to make a distinction between the amount retained on the plant surface and the amount absorbed internally and available for translocation? Is the chemical form of the radionuclide more or less important than the differences between the plants?

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Green-air: Exchange of green knowledge for healthier indoor and outdoor air 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

This project has the aim to make an up to date literature overview of the role of vegetation on the indoor and outdoor air quality. An overview will be given on differences between species in their role for cleaning the air, as well as of the plant characteristics driving this air pollution mitigation potential.

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Francqui Chair 2016-2017 Prof. Jeroen Raes. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Proposed by the University, the Francqui Foundation each year awards two Francqui Chairs at the UAntwerp. These are intended to enable the invitation of a professor from another Belgian University or from abroad for a series of ten lessons. The Francqui Foundation pays the fee for these ten lessons directly to the holder of a Francqui Chair.

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Fermented vegetable juices – Microbiome analysis and their probiotic potential? 01/04/2016 - 31/03/2017

Abstract

Naturally fermented vegetable juices have known a recent 'revival'. It becomes more and more clear that contact with a diverse group of bacterial species is necessary for the proper development of our immune system ('Hygiene Hypothesis). After the start of our Citizen Science project 'Ferme Pekes' with 40 participants from the Antwerp area, we would like to proceed with the analyses of al these samples and further extent the research to investigate the robustness of these fermentations. Within this background, we will analyse the microbial composition in fermented vegetable juices and look at the probiotic potential of specific isolates.

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Microbiome analysis of the upper respiratory tract: identification of beneficial microbes with probiotic potential. 01/03/2016 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Recent studies indicate that various disorders of the upper respiratory tract (URT) involve an imbalance of the microbiota in this niche, without the clear dominance of a single pathogenic species. These studies highlight that the microbial ecology of these niches needs to properly studied for a better understanding of the pathogenesis of these URT diseases. However, many details on these microbial imbalances need to be unraveled. Therefore, this project aims to characterize the microbiome in the URT by Illumina MiSeq microbial community profiling using the 16S rRNA gene as main target. In addition, we will screen for niche-specific lactic acid bacteria (LAB) as potential beneficial and probiotic microbes and we will compare their occurrence, genetic potential and functional activity with more pathogenic species such as Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus aureus. Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), a common URT disease, is chosen as important case-study to unravel the microbiome of the URT. Samples of CRS patients will be functionally and quantitatively compared with healthy individuals.

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Study of the microbiota and the potential of probiotics in chronic rhinosinusitis 01/01/2016 - 14/04/2020

Abstract

Upper respiratory tract (URT) infections have a major impact on public and animal health with a high incidence in Flanders. Moreover, these infections predispose to lower respiratory tract and lung infections, which have a higher impact on health worldwide than all other infectious diseases combined. The study of the microbiome and the investigation of new possible bacterio- and probiotic therapies can deliver additional first in line solutions, which will eventually lead to lower antibiotics usage.

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ProCure : Defining the future of probiotics for upper respiratory tract diseases. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

This project aims to explore probiotic microbial approaches that can efficiently reduce the incidence and symptoms of diseases of the upper respiratory tract (URT). Hereto, we will set up an enabling platform to (1) select innovative probiotic strains for this original human body niche of probiotic application, (2) develop innovative processes for the formulation, upscaling and application of these probiotic strains and (3) develop innovative services based on cellular, more complex polymicrobial model systems and microbiome analyses of the URT to monitor the impact of probiotics, food and pharmaceutical compounds on the microbiota of the URT.

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Lactobacillus exopolysaccharides as antipathogenic and immunomodulatory adjuvantia 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

In this project the potential antipathogenic and immunomodulatory activity of exopolysaccharides of model Lactobacillus strains is investigated by in vitro and in vivo models. Methods for extraction, characterization and formulation of the exopolysaccharides are also optimized.

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Fingerprinting particulate matter for urban monitoring and source apportionment techniques. 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Among air pollutants, particulate matter (PM) poses the greatest risk to public health. Atmospheric PM is currently monitored by a network of air monitoring stations, but its limited spatial resolution impedes to properly monitor the high spatial variability in PM local exposure. On the other hand, urban vegetation works as a reliable passive PM collector, as it provides a natural surface for deposition and immobilization of pollutants. In this research project, urban green is thus used as a bio-indicator for atmospheric PM (biomonitoring), where each leaf plant can work as a monitoring station per se. Within airborne PM, iron and other metals are of particular interest. Therefore, magnetic biomonitoring of leaves has been extensively used as a rapid and cost-effective tool to assess urban PM exposure, however, the discrimination of PM sources based on magnetic analyses remains yet a less explored topic. PM source attribution mainly depends on the chemical characteristics (composition and structure of the particles), size distribution and even shape properties, therefore, a component of particle analysis is also necessary to understand the different sources of PM. The strategy of this project is based on PM fingerprinting the major urban PM sources (e.g. roadside and train traffic) in terms of its magnetic signatures, composition and microscopic form, and on how the different magnetic parameters can be used to identify them in the mixed-source urban environment. The main goal is then to investigate the applicability of using magnetic biomonitoring of urban leaves as an effective source apportionment methodology/tool for PM exposure. The application of such a methodology would help on delineating high-polluted PM areas while understanding their major PM emission sources, which can be of great use for e.g. impact assessment studies and policy implementation of targeted PM mitigation strategies.

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The importance of airborne bacterial endotoxins in an urban environment. 26/11/2015 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

Our lungs are the largest interface between the human host and the external environment, being exposed to more than 8 000 litres of inhaled air each day. Although not visible by the naked eye, the air is teeming with bacteria. Inevitably, these bacteria are frequent visitors of our respiratory system. Although exposure to microbes and their components has been shown to be important for the development of our immune system (hygiene hypothesis). What happens when we are in an urban environment- exposed to microbes and pollutants simultaneously? By now, we all know about air pollution – the world's largest environmental health risk. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2012 air pollution caused one in eight of total global deaths, being linked to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. However, air pollution not only affects our health, but also our quality of living. Nationally, Belgium is an important hotspot for traffic-related air pollution, with particulate air pollution being one of the highest of Western Europe. The pollutant most associated with the health effects is particulate matter, a heterogeneous mixture of liquid and solid materials suspended in the air, and typically small enough (<10μm) to be respired. Mechanistic studies indicate that the observed health effects are related to the capacity of inhaled PM to induce oxidative stress and airway inflammation. There is conflicting evidence in the literature as to the predominant mechanisms and also the compositional element(s) that drive the inflammatory response of ambient PM. Although PM consists of a very complex mixture, of these components, bacterial endotoxins (or lipopolysaccharides) from the cell wall of Gram-negative bacteria are well-known for their high pro-inflammatory capacity. To attribute their role in PM-related inflammation, we need to know if endotoxins are present in an urban environment? Subsequently, several global studies have monitored ambient endotoxin concentrations in an urban environment, however they reported very low concentrations, thus discouraging their importance in an urban environment, and thus their involvement in PM-related inflammation. We investigated the methods used in all these studies and found that they relied on filter-based collection strategies which are typically used to collect PM. However, the problem with these methods is that once the endotoxins are captured on the filter, they are very difficult to remove for analysis. Improving on these methods, our study used an impinger-based strategy, depositing the airborne endotoxins directly into water, obtaining more than 30 fold higher endotoxin concentrations. Now that we know that endotoxins are indeed in significant concentrations within an urban environment, it urges us to re-evaluate their role in PM-related inflammation. Briefly, we will i) monitor spatiotemporal endotoxin concentrations by applying novel and up-to-date methods, and utilizing colony sequencing to identify possible sources for endotoxin increases within an urban environment; ii) elucidate the contribution of microbial endotoxins in PM-associated inflammation using human respiratory cell lines models, as well as to investigate any synergistic effects with other PM components by using synthetic pollutant models iii) gain mechanistic insights into inflammatory pathways and regulation of key receptors using RT qPCR, dedicated PCR arrays or RNA seq, iv) validating some of our findings in human volunteers from nasal brushings upon short-term PM exposure.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Implication of biomagnetic monitoring in urban air quality assessments: composition and health relevance of the magnetisable particulate matter fraction. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Air pollution is now the world's largest single environmental health risk. Nevertheless, current air quality networks obtain poor spatial monitoring resolution due to high investment and maintenance costs. Especially in heterogeneous urban environments, spatial monitoring resolution is generally too limited. Biomagnetic monitoring of roadside plant leaves presents a promising monitoring approach to capture spatio-temporal variation of air pollution. Throughout my PhD, I evaluated biomagnetic monitoring (SIRM) of leaf-deposited particles for both air quality monitoring and modelling purposes, on both spatial and temporal resolutions. Nevertheless, lack of information on magnetisable composition and health-relevancy of magnetic minerals in atmospheric particles impedes the general application of biomagnetic monitoring in environmental air quality assessments. Our research project aims to address this knowledge gap by evaluating the magnetisable composition of urban atmospheric particles, its potential for source attribution in urban areas, and the health-relevancy of biomagnetic properties. While the magnetic mineralogy, grain size and concentration will reflect PM source-contributions, associations with heavy metals and/or elemental carbon might emphasize biomagnetic monitoring as a novel health-related PM proxy. The acquired knowledge will be implemented in two largescale and parallel biomagnetic monitoring campaigns in Antwerp (Belgium) and London (UK).

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The importance of airborne bacterial endotoxins in an urban environment. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Although not visible by the naked eye, the air is teeming with bacteria. Inevitably, these airborne bacteria are frequent visitors of the respiratory system. Endotoxins are highly inflammatory lipid components of Gram-negative bacteria. In an urban environment, they may act by heightening immune responses in the presence of other pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM). However, our knowledge on the involvement of airborne endotoxins in PM-related inflammation is restricted on the methods used for its collection, quantification and analysis. Until now, collection methods have relied on filter-based samplers which are far from ideal for the recovery of endotoxins. For this reason, our study focusses on developing a new, more efficient, non-filter based strategy for the monitoring of endotoxins in an urban environment. Our first experiments could detect much higher ambient endotoxin concentrations than the available data in the literature for urban studies. This re-sparks the debate of the importance of endotoxins in the health effects of PM. Therefore, detailed studies will be done in cell models to investigate the contribution of endotoxins in PM-associated inflammation in relevant concentrations and in comparison with other pollutants. Finally, responses to natural PM exposure will be analysed in vivo at RNA level in nasal brushing samples and compared with the responses observed in the cell models.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Design of a knowledge platform for the realisation of an extensive and innovative range of probiotics 02/02/2015 - 31/01/2017

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the client. UA provides the client research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Integrated 'omics' approach of fermented vegetable juices. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

The goal of this PhD project is to select lactic acid bacteria in order to improve the fermentation process of vegetable juices using an integrated and interdisciplinary microbiological approach. Therefore the microbial diversity of spontaneous fermented vegetable juices will be studied. In a second step lactic acid bacteria isolated from the fermentation process will be studied using phenotypic assays and genome sequencing.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

The potential of Lactobacillus exopolysaccharides and glycoproteins as safe vaccine adjuvants. 01/01/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

Ligands of the innate immune system form an important new class of adjuvants, but the desired immunostimulation is often linked with toxicity and serious side-effects. These ligands or 'microbe-associated molecular patterns' (MAMPs) can also be found on the surface of lactobacilli with a 'generally regarded as safe' status. Various studies have demonstrated the specific effects of certain lactobacilli and their surface molecules, but the potential of MAMPs such as exopolysaccharides and glycoproteins of lactobacilli still requires further investigation. Hereto, the project is divided in three parts. First, the molecular interactions between the glycoconjugates and receptors such as Toll-like receptors and C-type lectins will be mapped. Next the in vitro immune response of these molecules in immunological important cells will be investigated. Finally, the potential of selected molecules will be validated in a mouse model.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Hyperspectral biomonitoring: air quality and the city (HYPERCITY). 01/12/2014 - 30/11/2019

Abstract

The overall objective of this research project is to develop, test and validate a plant-based passive biomonitoring methodology based on hyperspectral observations. To reach this objective an experimental set-up integrating different spatial (tree structural) scales will be used. In this project we will make use of a dual approach, i.e.: (1) large solitary trees growing in various contrasting urban environments in terms of air quality used for sealing up exercises, and (2) trees spatially distributed over the entire urban area for mapping purposes.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ecophysiological characterization of Coccoloba uvifera L.: the case of a salt and drought stress tolerant plant species for sand dune reclamation in Cuba. 01/12/2014 - 30/11/2016

Abstract

Specific Academic Objective: strengthen research and training on ecophysiological, nutritional and phytochemical characterization and fruit production under salt and drought stress of C. uvifera in saline coastal soils of Cuba.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Molecular and functional analysis of lectins in Lactobacillus. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Lectins, known as carbohydrate-binding proteins, are considered as important signal molecules, which regulate physiological processes and multicellular communities. Lactobacillus species are important beneficial microorganisms that are ubiquitously present on plants, in milk and on mucosal surfaces of animal and human host. Lectins molecules on the cell surface of the Lactobacillus strains that can directly interact with the pathogens or host cells are important for their beneficial functions. In this project we aim to functionally characterise lectin proteins form the gastrointestinal probiotic L. rhamnosus GG, the vaginal probiotic L. rhamnosus GR-1, the vaginal natural isolate L. plantarum CMPG5300 and the L. plantarum strains CMPGlp9 and CMPGlp10, which were isolated from cauliflower soils. The exact sugar/ligand specificity of the lectin molecules, their role in adhesion to variety of host cells and pathogen exclusion will be investigated. Furthermore in this project, we aim to gather more insights in genetic and functional aspects that are involved in the optimal heterologous expression and secretion of lectins by lactobacilli. We will focus on the probiotic L. rhamnosus GG and L. rhamnosus GR-1 strains, and two well-known mannose-specific lectins, i.e actinohivin and griffitsin. Ultimately this project proposal will provide better understanding of the fundamental principles governing the beneficial functions of Lactobacillus species for various niches.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Interplay of bacterial endotoxins and transition metals in the inflammatory capacity of airborne particulate matter. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

Urbanization has resulted in health-threatening concentrations of air pollutants like particulate matter (PM), a diverse and complex mixture of air-suspended particles. PM affects more people than any other pollutant, and can be associated with e.g. asthma exacerbations and heart and vascular diseases. Studies indicate that many of the observed health effects are related to the capacity of inhaled PM to induce airway inflammation. Although not extensively studied and often neglected in PM sample collection methods, microbial endotoxins are components of PM with naturally high inflammatory potential. This response may be further enhanced with co-exposure to the other pollutants of PM. It has been suggested that transition metals may have a synergistic effect, however, novel approaches are needed to provide information on the biologically reactive state of the metals. This doctoral project therefore aims to develop and validate biologically relevant methods for analysis of airborne endotoxins and transition metals.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Tree leaf surface properties as dynamic drivers of particulate matter-leaf interaction and phyllosphere microbial communities 01/02/2014 - 31/12/2014

Abstract

This project takes the first step in unraveling the complex triangular relationship between leaf surface properties, phyllosphere microbial communities and particulate matter (PM). Following an exploration of the variability of leaf surface properties in urban ambient settings, the influence of leaf surface properties on PM deposition, encapsulation, and wash-off and on microbial community composition in the phyllosphere is studied.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Toll like receptors as the missing link between environmental microbes, air pollution and asthma? 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

During the last decades, the modem hygiene hypothesis, which links the increased incidence of immune disorders such as asthma with reduced contact with micro-organisms due to increased hygiene, has gained a lot of attention. This project aims to investigate the molecular basis underlying the hygiene hypothesis, by studying the importance of toll-like receptors (TLRs) in detennining the susceptibility for the development of immune disorders.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Molecular analysis of protein glycosylation in beneficial bacteria. 01/01/2014 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

In this project, we aim to perform a molecular analysis of glycoproteins in the beneficial bacterial strain Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG). Hereto, a thorough genetic, biochemical and functional characterization of the glycoproteins of LGG will be performed in relation to specific aspects of its physiology, cell wall morphology and interactions with the host. The molecular knowledge obtained in this project will provide novel insights in the glycobiology of beneficial microbes.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Potentials of leaf Saturation Isothennal Remanent Magnetisation and physiological leaf parameters as indicators of local air quality in tropical urban environments: a case study for Abidjan (Ivory Coast). (Postdoc. fellowship Y. BARIMA, Ivory Coast). 01/01/2014 - 30/06/2014

Abstract

It has recently been shown that in a temperate area it is possible to determine the spatial distribution of particulate matter in an urban environment by Saturation lsothennal Remanent Magnetization (SlRM) of plants leaves (Kardel et al. 201 l and 2012). But no such study has already been conducted in tropical (urban) environments. The first aim of this study is, therefore, to evaluate the potential of leaf magnetic and biochemical characteristics as bio-indicators of particulate matter of urban pollution in a tropical urban environment, as a cheap and easy way to monitor air pollution, i.e. particulate matter.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Design of a platform for the selection and novel formulation of nasopharyngeal probiotics. 01/12/2013 - 30/11/2015

Abstract

Probiotics are primarily known as food additives that can have positive health benefits by improving the microbial balance in the gut. Infections of the throat and nose are also characterized by microbial imbalances. Treatment of these infections with a local spray, tablets or mouthwash of probiotics, in particular with Lactobacillus species, can improve the efficacy of the currently available medication and provide an alternative and novel site of application for probiotics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Beneficial Lactobacillus interactions at the nasopharyngeal epithelium. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

The human body is occupied by a vast number of microorganisms, which are collectively called microbiota. They inhabit the skin, oronasopharyngeal cavity, genital tract and gastrointestinal tract. The microbiota present in each of the niches provides to the host a vast number of health effects, including inhibition of bacterial pathogenic colonization, stimulation of immune responses and promotion of immune regulation. Interest in the beneficial functions of the human microbiota has boomed within the last ten years, thanks to major advances in next generation sequencing technologies in so called 'metagenomic studies'. In this rather new 'microbiota field', the potential of nasal and pharyngeal probiotics is currently unexplored, while they hold great promise for multiple reasons. Among these, the facts that (i) upper respiratory tract infections, including acute otitis media, are the leading causes for the prescription of antibiotics in children and that (ii) the oronasopharyngeal cavity is quite accessible and generally populated by a less complex and less dense microbiota than the gut, form a major incentive for the proposed PhD project. In this study, fundamental questions underlying the potential of oronasopharyngeal application of probiotic lactobacilli will be studied. Hereto, a stepwise in vitro experimental design will be followed. The research questions that will be addressed include: (i) are lactobacilli tolerated by upper respiratory tract cells, (ii) can we select lactobacilli with inhibitory activity against typical bacterial respiratory pathogens, (iii) Do these lactobacilli also have potential to counteract aspects of the pro-inflammatory and oxidative activity of air pollution, (iv) which are the molecular mechanisms of probiotic action involved? To study potential modes of action, we will implement the construction and phenotypic analysis of dedicated knock-out mutants of Lactobacilli lacking putative probiotic factors. These in vitro experiments should deliver data for later in vivo animal studies and clinical trials.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Modeling of the plant-atmosphere interactions in the context of air pollution. 01/12/2012 - 31/03/2013

Abstract

This project represents a research contract awarded by the University of Antwerp. The supervisor provides the Antwerp University research mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions stipulated by the university.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Microbial analysis of airborne particulate matter from polluted air. 01/10/2012 - 14/07/2015

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand Erasmus Mundus. UA provides Erasmus Mundus research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Optimization of the cultivation technique of baobab trees (Adansonia digitata L.) in Mali. 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

Baobab is a majestic tree, indigenous to tropical Africa and widespread throughout its drier regions. Local rural communities rely on this tree its resources for their livelihood, as it is a multipurpose tree species with products (leaves, fruit pulp, seeds, bark,...) having various applications (e.g. food uses, rope-making, traditional medicine, trading and marketing). This study focuses on the screening of superior planting material with respect to growth, biomass production, drought resistance and nutritional value. This information will be very valuable for future baobab plantings.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Avoided deforestation and climate change mitigation: a sustainability assessment of an international mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD). 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

Tropical deforestation contribute each year for approximately 20% of recent greenhouse gas emissions. A climate agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is expected to include a mechanism that provides positive incentives for non-Annex-I countries to reduce the emissions from deforestation and forest degradation ('REDD'). To ensure that REDD will be effective, environmentally sound, equitable and politically feasible, this project aim to make a quantitative sustainability assessment of the country-specific impacts of different REDD-scenario's, now on the negotiation table.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Molecular microbiological and immunological studies of air pollution. 01/11/2011 - 31/10/2016

Abstract

A steady increase in chronic inflammatory diseases can be observed in regions with a high degree of industrialization and urbanization since World War II. The pro-inflammatory capacity of ambient air particulate matter and other air pollutants seems an important factor in the pathogenesis of these diseases, but the underlying mechanisms are not well understood. This project aims to generate more insights in the (micro)biology of air pollution by application of techniques from the fields of molecular microbiology and immunology to investigate the presence of micro-organisms and their endotoxins in particulate matter (PM) and to characterize the pro-inflammatory capacity of PM in detail.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Biomonitoring of air quality on the basis of plant characteristics. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

This project represents a research agreement between the UA and on the onther hand IWT. UA provides IWT research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Influence of environmental factors on leaf spectral characteristics. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

The objective of this research is to examine how external stress, influence the spectral characteristics of leaves in order to make a correct interpretation of the spectral signal. For this purpose soil-related stress factors, drought, nutrient status and presence of heavy metals as well as the influence of individual atmospheric pollutants (O3, NO2, SO2, NH3 and particulate matter) were examined in laboratory conditions. Finally, the influence of atmospheric pollutants in field conditions will be studied.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ikebana-project. 21/04/2010 - 20/04/2012

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand EU. UA provides EU research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Optimization of the cultivation technique of baobab trees (Adansonia digitata L.) in Mali. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Baobab is a majestic tree, indigenous to tropical Africa and widespread throughout its drier regions. Local rural communities rely on this tree its resources for their livelihood, as it is a multipurpose tree species with products (leaves, fruit pulp, seeds, bark,¿) having various applications (e.g. food uses, rope-making, traditional medicine, trading and marketing). This study focuses on the screening of superior planting material with respect to growth, biomass production, drought resistance and nutritional value. This information will be very valuable for future baobab plantings.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Construction of a soil bioreactor for degradation of the gaseous pollutant sulfur hexafluoride 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is a strong greenhouse gas that occurs in albeit low concentrations in the atmosphere. A useful method for the degradation of this gas is so far not known. In this project we construct a reactor to test the capacity of different polluted soils to break down SF6. In parallel, we determine different physical and chemical parameters of the soils during SF6 treatment.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Characterization of the morphological, ecophysiological, cell physiological and molecular response of Baobab (Adansonia digi L.) to drought stress. 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

The African baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is a multipurpose, widely-used tree species with medicinal properties, numerous food uses, and bark fibres used for a variety of applications. In this way, the tree is playing an essential role in the rural communities of Western Africa as a supplement of the local diet, a buffer against crop failures and a support of the local economy. Although baobab is being used by millions of people on a daily basis, the species has not yet been given the right attention and is being underutilized at this moment. Baobab is usually not cultivated for example, and rural people are dependent on variable weather conditions and wild, unimproved and generally 'unknown' plant material to supply them with the vital products. The general aim of this project is to give an overall picture of the different mechanisms of baobab to anticipate on drought conditions. In a first part, the morphological adaptations of the tree to different environments are being studied by a field survey in Mali. At the same time, seed material is collected from different provenances. The seed material is being used to set up different field- and environmental-controlled experiments, which are used for the characterization of the ecophysiological, cell physiological and molecular response of baobab to drought conditions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Avoided deforestation and climate change mitigation: a sustainability assessment of an international mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD). 01/01/2010 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

Tropical deforestation contribute each year for approximately 20% of recent greenhouse gas emissions. A climate agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is expected to include a mechanism that provides positive incentives for non-Annex-I countries to reduce the emissions from deforestation and forest degradation ('REDD'). To ensure that REDD will be effective, environmentally sound, equitable and politically feasible, this project aim to make a quantitative sustainability assessment of the country-specific impacts of different REDD-scenario's, now on the negotiation table.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Biomonitoring of the urban habitat quality using hyperspectral aircraft observations (BIOHYPE). 01/12/2009 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

The overall objective of this research proposal is to develop, test and validate a passive biomonitoring methodology based on airborne h yperspectral observations based on an experimental set-up integrating over several spatial (tree structural) and temporal (dependent on the considered parameter) levels.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Phytotechnical use of bamboo for biomass production and soil sanitation. 01/07/2009 - 30/06/2011

Abstract

The aim of this project is to evaluate the use of bamboo plants in biomass production and soil sanitation. Plants will be grown on three different fields and will thus exposed to different levels of pollution. Assessment of biomass production and tolerance towards the pollutant includes growth analysis, carbon assimilation and chlorophyll fluorescence. Based upon these data, an existing growth model (FORUG) will be parametrised for bamboo.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Fusion of atmospheric simulation results with in-situ data. 01/06/2009 - 31/07/2011

Abstract

The aim is to investigate, develop, and apply methods to merge simulated regional atmospheric pollutant concentration fields with observed values, in order to generate an improved estimate of the "true" spatial and temporal distribution of air pollution.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Avoided deforestation as a mitigation of climate change. 01/05/2009 - 30/04/2013

Abstract

Tropical deforestation contribute each year for approximately 20% of recent greenhouse gas emissions. A climate agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is expected to include a mechanism that provides positive incentives for non-Annex-I countries to reduce the emissions from deforestation and forest degradation ('REDD'). To ensure that REDD will be effective, environmentally sound, equitable and politically feasible, this project aim to make a quantitative sustainability assessment of the country-specific impacts of different REDD-scenario's, now on the negotiation table.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Analysis of genetic and phenotypic diversity of Tamarind (Tamarindus indica L.) in Mali and their ecophysiological response to drought and salinity stress. 01/01/2009 - 15/10/2009

Abstract

Tamarind, as a food, fodder and wood producing tree species, plays a very important socio-economical part in many of the rural communities of Western Africa. Nearly all components of the tree (leaves, flowers, fruits, seeds, wood, bark) are being traded on the local market and mean a source of food and income security for producers and their families. Despite the importance of the species, only very little and mostly poorly coordinated research has been carried out on the African continent. Wild and uncultivated trees are now continuously being exploited to meet the growing demands. In this way, the intraspecific diversity is put at risk, thereby threatening food production and ecosystem stability. This research is complementary to the European project 'Domestication And Development Of Baobab And Tamarind' (DADOBAT), which aims to achieve a better and more complete exploitation of the possibilities of baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) and tamarind in Western Africa, by combining the results of different analyses in various scientific disciplines. The purpose of our study is to contribute to the DADOBAT-project, mainly by characterization of the current genetic and phenotypic diversity of tamarind and by facilitating the selection of the most suitable varieties for domestication and cultivation. Mali was selected as the study area. During a first project phase, observational research was carried out on ten tamarind populations, distributed over different climatic zones in Mali. Some morphological and chemical tree, leaf and fruit variables were measured and analyzed to determine the phenotypic diversity of the species, within and between populations and climatic zones. For the genetic analyses, STR (Simple Tandem Repeat) markers are being developed. By means of these markers, the genetic relationships between trees and populations will be elucidated. In that way identification of the possible landraces and characterization of the current genetic diversity of the species in Mali will be obtained. The results of both the phenotypic and the genetic part of the study will serve as a reference for the development of conservation strategies and as a starting point for the selection of useful traits for domestication programs. In a second phase the ecophysiological, chemical and growth response to drought stress will be determined for the landraces or ecotypes, identified in the former research phase. The resulting knowledge can facilitate the selection of the most drought resistant ecotypes for domestication in dry regions, where food provision and ecosystem stability are threatened the most.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Saline Crops for overcoming soil salinity in Eastern Cuba: institutional strengthening and capacity building for research and development 01/12/2008 - 30/11/2013

Abstract

The project deals with the major problem of salinity in the Cauto VaIIey located in eastern Cuba, where it considerably diminishes food production. This area is of great importance for Cuban agriculture as it produces most of the country's sugar cane, nee, root crops and vegetables. The aim of this project is: (i) to improve food security and livelihood in eastern Cuba (Granma Province) through selection of the most salt-tolerant species and genotypes of three food plants (wheat, tomato and bean), and (ii) to strengthen ecophysiological and biochemical research on salt stress at Granma University (GU) and improving the training capacity on the former subject.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Refinement of a canopy budget model by analysing nutrient transfer processes in tree canopies at different spatio-temporal scales. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

The main objective of the research is to adapt and further develop a canopy budget model, which will allow to use throughfall measurements for accurately quantifying internal and external nutrient sources in forest ecosystems. To this aim, the nutrient interactions between the atmosphere and the vegetation will be compared on several spatial and temporal scales between three important tree species with varying ecophysiological and biogeochemical characteristics. The nutrient transfer processes of dry deposition and canopy exchange will be studied at the spatial levels of leaves and branches, individual tree canopies as well as the forest stand, and during different periods of physiological activity. At the leaf and branch level, in-situ and ex-situ experiments will be carried out for determining physical and physiological vegetation characteristics that affect canopy exchange processes. At the canopy level, canopy architecture and its influence on within-canopy turbulence and dry deposition will be studied. Finally, the results of these two lower spatial levels will be integrated and scaled up in a process-oriented nutrient transfer model that will be validated at the stand level.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Study of chemical and microbial factors affecting the corrosion in ballast tanks on board of merchant navy vessels. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

Corrosion in ballast tanks is a very specific issue, influenced by numerous circumstances. As a consequence, many types of corrosion exist, each having its own influences and mechanisms. The project is divided in 3 work packages. Te first package intends to formulate a protocol for survey, a data form and a do it yourself kit for sampling. During the second package, on board sampling will be done. Chemical parameters and microbiological consortia will be identified. The third package tends to formulate a hypothesis regarding the cause of corrosion with the help of multivariate statistics.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Characterization of the morphological, ecophysiological, cell physiological and molecular response of Baobab (Adansonia digi L.) to drought stress. 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

The African baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) is a multipurpose, widely-used tree species with medicinal properties, numerous food uses, and bark fibres used for a variety of applications. In this way, the tree is playing an essential role in the rural communities of Western Africa as a supplement of the local diet, a buffer against crop failures and a support of the local economy. Although baobab is being used by millions of people on a daily basis, the species has not yet been given the right attention and is being underutilized at this moment. Baobab is usually not cultivated for example, and rural people are dependent on variable weather conditions and wild, unimproved and generally 'unknown' plant material to supply them with the vital products. The general aim of this project is to give an overall picture of the different mechanisms of baobab to anticipate on drought conditions. In a first part, the morphological adaptations of the tree to different environments are being studied by a field survey in Mali. At the same time, seed material is collected from different provenances. The seed material is being used to set up different field- and environmental-controlled experiments, which are used for the characterization of the ecophysiological, cell physiological and molecular response of baobab to drought conditions.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Sustainability evaluation of options for energetic valorisation of bio-mass in Flanders. 01/11/2007 - 31/10/2011

Abstract

This PhD research aims at the development of an operationel sustainability assessment tool for policymakers and stakeholders involved in bio-energy production and consumption. It intends to gain insight into the ecological and socio-economic sustainability of the most relevant combinations of local or imported biomass and conversion technologies in Flanders. Therefore it is necessary to make an inventory and evaluation of the most relevant options of energetic valorisation of biomass in Flanders in the short and medium term. The major part of the research will be devoted to the elaboration of an integrated sustainability model that is specific for Flanders. An extensive review and evaluation will be made of existing assessment tools, primarely LCA-based ones, the internationally available LCA-data and the 1st and 2nd generation biomass technologies for energy conversion and generation. An economic optimalisation model will be chosen, based on some specific biomass and energy requirements, and combined with the environmental and social sustainability aspects into an integrated sustainability model for biomass energy. This model will make it possible to weigh the pros and cons of the different biomass conversion routes with respect to sustainability, energy efficiency and costs. The final questions to be answered in this research are thus: -which biomass-conversion technology combinations are for Flanders the optimal ones with respect to sustainability, energy and cost efficiency? -how can Flanders use its (limited) inland biomass sources in an optimal ecological and economic way?

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Emission, formation and dispersion of ultra fine particles. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2011

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand VITO. UA provides VITO research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Computational Fluid Dynamics for modelling the dispersion of nanoparticles. 01/10/2007 - 31/08/2011

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand a private institution. UA provides the private institution research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Ceramic hollow fibres for gas fission in sustainable energy production. 01/10/2007 - 31/08/2011

Abstract

This doctoral research aims at the development of a functional, gastight ceramic membrane, with a hollow fiber geometry and optimal proton or oxygen ion conduction, applicable in the precombustion and/or oxyfuel route for future thermal power plants. In the oxyfuel route pure oxygen ( obtained from ambient air via membrane separation) is used as oxidans for the fuel, while in the precombustion route the fuel is gasified and H2 is separated from the H2/CO2 mixture. The development of the appropriate membranes will be based on former VITO research wherein the technical feasability of manufacturing high quality ceramic fibers was demonstrated. The first step will be the production and characterisation of hollow fibers made of perovskite or perovskite like ceramic material, while in the second, and crucial step a suitable small-scale membrane module will be designed to bundle the hollow fibers, make them gastight and thus simplifying the scaling-up.

Researcher(s)

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Exposing to ultrafine particles caused by traffic: development of a method for the determination of degree of exposing in environmental air. 01/09/2007 - 31/08/2009

Emission, formation and dispersion of ultra fine particles. 01/07/2007 - 30/06/2009

Study of the dynamics of the agricultural exploitation systems in the densly populated provinces of Ngozi and Muyinga, Burundi. 01/06/2007 - 31/05/2011

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand VLIR. UA provides VLIR research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

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Role of auxin in the induction of stress-induced somatic embryogenesis. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

Previous research indicated that a mild stress treatment stimulates isolated plant cells to dedifferentiate and to transform into somatic embryos, and this through an interaction with auxin and auxin metabolism. This project uses Arabidopsis mutants in hormone metabolism and stress responsiveness to investigate this interaction further.

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Characterisation of the natural phenotypes of Tamarind (Tamarindus indica L.) in West-Africa and their ecophysiological response to drought and salinity stress. 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2008

Abstract

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Ecophysiological characterisation of baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) in response to drought and salinity 01/01/2007 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

Baobab (Adansonia digitata L.) has an essential socio-economical role in the rural communities of West-Africa. Despite the daily usage of baobab products by millions of people, research about this species is scarce, and its potential is not fully used. Therefore, this project aims at characterising, on an ecophysiological basis, baobab-types growing along a precipitation gradient in Mali, in their response to drought and salinity.

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Modelling of subsail water-surface water interphase. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2007

Biogeochemical modelling of a VOCL contaminated groundwater using a reactive permeable wall and natural attenuation. 01/04/2006 - 31/03/2007

Abstract

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Start-up of a new research activity for the physico-chemical treatment of flue gases and follow-up of the gas cleaning process by means of gas sensors. 01/03/2006 - 31/12/2007

Abstract

This project concerns the start-up of a new research line for the physico-chemical treatment of flue gases and process monitoring by means of gas sensors. A flow-through reactor is built for the characterization of adsorption and catalytic properties of metal oxide materials. Objective is the removal of harmful components from flue and off-gases. These measurements are the basis for more in-dept basic research on the working principle of nano structured metal oxide materials (TiO2, SnO2, ZnO, V2O5) used as sorbent, as catalyst or as gas sensor.

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Preventive and curative silt treatment techniques. 01/03/2005 - 31/10/2006

Abstract

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IUC Programme with the Sokoine University of Agriculture, Tanzania. 01/04/2004 - 31/03/2007

Abstract

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01/12/2003 - 30/11/2004

Abstract

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