Diversity and Genomics of Nickel Hyperaccumulation in Plants



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Nickel is a metal widely used in the industry to produce stainless steel and rechargeable batteries, or as a chemical catalyst. However, the nickel mining industry leads to environmental pollution and has a direct impact on biodiversity.

In the context of a sustainable development, it is crucial to limit the negative effects of nickel production on the environment. Phytoremediation, Phytomining and Green chemistry are therefore promising technologies that use plants to remove nickel from polluted soil and to extract nickel for commercial purpose. Today, the development of these eco-friendly strategies is still limited by our succinct knowledge on the mechanisms of nickel accumulation in plants.

The EvoMetoNicks project, funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR-13-ADAP-0004) aims to improve our knowledge on the molecular mechanisms involved in nickel accumulation in plants.

Nickel is an essential element but becomes toxic at high concentration for most living organisms. Surprisingly, more than 400 plant species (0,2% of angiosperms) found on ultramafic soils in Europe, New Caledonia and Cuba, are able to accumulate tremendous amount (>0.1% of dry weight) of nickel in leaves. Nickel hyperaccumulators are receiving an increasing interest because of their potential use to extract metal from soil.

The EvoMetoNicks project take advantage of the important diversity found in nickel hyperaccumulators worldwide to obtain a novel and broad vision on the fundamental mechanisms involved in nickel adaptation and hyperaccumulation in plants.

The EvoMetoNicks project gather 4 academic institutions:

  • Institute of Integrative Biology of the Cell (I2BC, PI and project coordinator: Dr. Sylvain Merlot)
  • University of New Calédonia (UNC, PI: Dr. Valérie Burtet-Sarramegna)
  • Neo-Caledonian Institute of Agronomy (IAC, PI: Dr. Bruno Fogliani)
  • University of Wageningen (WUR, PI: Dr. Mark G.M. Aarts)

We have selected evolutionary distant nickel hyperaccumulators including Noccaea caerulescens, a species of the Brassicaceae family developed as a model plant to study metal hyperaccumulation, and two hyperaccumulators endemic to New Caledonia, Psychotria gabriellae (Rubiaceae) and Geissois pruinosa (Cunoniaceae) that will be better characterized at the physiological and molecular levels in this project. Using Next Generation Sequencing strategies, we will compare the transcriptomes of these species with those of closely related non-accumulating species to identify molecular mechanisms linked to nickel hyperaccumulation.

We will confirm these transcriptomic studies using functional studies to understand the role of identified genes in adaptation and accumulation of nickel.

We think the EvoMetonicks project will identify new targets important for nickel hyperaccumulation in plants that will be valuable for the development of sustainable phytotechnologies.

Also, according to the Nagoya Protocol for the access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits, the EvoMetoNicks project will conform to local and international environmental laws for the protection of plant species and we will share the knowledge and experience generated by this project with students and a more general audience through lectures and conferences in New Caledonia.