Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are microscopic aquatic organisms capable of photosynthesis. The collection kept at the InBios -Centre d’Ingénierie des Protéines’ Research Unit of the University of Liège is, above all, a scientific ‘tool’, but it also aims to preserve, ex situ, part of the biodiversity of these cyanobacteria from fragile environments or environments threatened by climate and/or anthropogenic changes.

Public Collection

It was in 1998, during the European MICROMAT project, that Annick Wilmotte's team isolated the first strains of cyanobacteria to study their biodiversity in Antarctica. Gradually, the collection grew and, in 2006, it served as the basis for a project of the Belgian Coordinated Collections of Microorganisms (BCCM). Then, gradually, after new integrations, the collection went from being a "laboratory collection" to a "public collection". Now an official member of the BCCM (with QMS and ISO9001 certification), the collection participates in the European INFRADEV project 'IS-MIRRI21' which aims to prepare a European infrastructure, called MIRRI-ERIC. Scientific and industrial users will have access to a single portal giving access to a large network of collections, their strains and their services.

As a member of the BCCM consortium of public collections, the cyanobacteria collection collaborates with UCLouvain, Sciensano, the Institute of Tropical Medicine, and the University of Ghent. In addition, it sends strains to universities in Belgium and around the world (University of Nevada and MIT in the USA, University of Santiago in Portugal, University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, to name but a few).

New Strains

The collection continues to grow steadily: approximately 25 strains per year over the past five years from external and internal contributors have entered the collection after passing quality controls. The collection is also supplied by the team's projects which ensure the isolation of new strains.

Many Research Topics

Cyanobacteria are directly related to the research activities of the Laboratory, whose objective is to characterise the biodiversity and geographical distribution of cyanobacteria. They are studied more particularly in polar environments. In addition, there is also the question of studying the resistance of cyanobacteria to extreme conditions, the production of bioactive antibacterial and antifungal compounds by certain strains, and the production of toxins (microcystins) in the event of proliferation in eutrophic lakes and ponds (which poses a public health problem).

In the future, the scientists of the Laboratory would like to increase the taxonomic and ecological diversity of the isolated cyanobacteria, to better understand the strains of the collection (particularly their genomes, physiology, etc.), to distribute their strains more widely, and to offer more services adapted to researchers and industry.

In Other Scientific Fields

The cyanobacteria collection is also used for other types of research at ULiège. It is interesting to the field of astrobiology, for example, because they have played an important role in the evolution of the planet. Those working on phylogenomics use data from genomic sequences of strains to better characterise them, improve their taxonomy and better understand the evolution of cyanobacteria. There are also applications to veterinary medicine as some toxic cyanobacteria can be responsible for animal deaths.

Directly Related to Teaching

Students also benefit from the collections, mainly for their practical work in algology and molecular characterisation of microbial diversity. The study of cyanobacteria is also the subject of internships and theses.


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