Porifera in the Pasvik River – accumulators of bacteria and contaminants

Greetings from the Svanhovd Research Station of the Norwegian Institute for Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO) in northeastern Norway! Due to the pandemic situation last year, we decided to postpone our field activities to 2021. Our departure was in the balance until the last moment because of travel restrictions, but…we are finally here!

We come from three different institutions in Italy: the Institute of Polar Sciences of the National Research Council (Angelina Lo Giudice from Messina and Luisa Patrolecco from Rome), the Zoological Station “Anton Dohrn” in Messina (Carmen Rizzo), and the Department of Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry of the University of Pisa (Marco Termine). We are collecting samples for the INTERACT-BIP (Benthic filter-feeding Invertebrates from the Arctic as accumulators of Pollutants and tolerant bacterial communities), a project coordinated by the group leader Angelina Lo Giudice.

Every day we move towards the Pasvik River, we put on wetsuits and masks, high boots and then we walk or swim among horsetail (and mosquitos!), commonly growing in dense colonies along in shallow water of the river, in search of Porifera specimens. And… we enjoy the silence of the place and appreciate the kindness of people who allow us to use their gardens as a “base camp” for our stuff.

Figure 1. Shallow sampling sites characterized by horsetail and Porifera.

Porifera, as benthic filter-feeders, can represent a suitable biomonitoring system (sentinel species) for evaluating the state of an ecosystem. Their communities can remain stable for long time periods, thus potentially accumulating different kinds of contaminants (both chemical and biological) from the environment. In Arctic environments, the reduced metabolic and growth rates of organisms, due to the low water temperature, promote high concentrations of contaminants in the biota. It is expected that bacteria associated with filter-feeders must cope with the presence of contaminants in the host tissues. With BIP we intend to explore the pollution level and the bacterial community composition and activities in Porifera and their surrounding environment (water and sediment), as well as linking such data with the self-depuration feature of the environment due to the occurrence of bacteria able to cope with contamination.  For these reasons, once the Porifera are found, we also collect samples of water and sediment from the same site, and measure chemical-physical parameters (e.g., temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and salinity).

Figure 2. Collection of water and sediment samples.

In Italy, samples will be processed for microbiological and chemical analyses. The amounts of the pollutants (both legacy and emerging contaminants: e.g., polychlorobiphenyls – PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – PAHs, heavy metals – HMs, antibiotics, and other pharmaceutical products) detected in biotic and abiotic matrices will be related to the bacterial community composition and the occurrence of HM-tolerant, PCB/PAH-degrading bacteria, and antibiotic resistant bacteria. These bacteria could be exploited for bioremediation purposes in cold areas or could allow to understand physiological and molecular mechanisms of tolerance to contaminants. Finally, a preliminary survey will be done to determine the occurrence of microplastics in the analyzed samples, and the adhesion of contaminants and bacteria (including pathogens) on their surface. So, a lot of work awaits us, but we are excited and curious to know the results of all lab analyses!

Figure 3. BIP team members (from the left: Luisa Patrolecco, Angelina Lo Giudice, Carmen Rizzo, and Marco Termine.

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