HELIOS is a very innovative and ambitious project that through a scientific and technological multidisciplinary approach and a coordinated action aims to explore and exploit biotechnologically the biodiversity that exists in an exceptional niche such as solar panels and other related environments subjected to extreme irradiation, temperature and dry conditions. The project starts from a surprising proof of concept that demonstrates the surface of photovoltaic solar panels are inhabited by a number of exceptional microorganisms, taxonomically related to those found in some deserts, which can provide useful products to address the problems posed by climate change, where sudden changes in humidity, temperature and irradiation lead life to a huge oxidative stress, the main cause of imbalances that trigger cell death. HELIOS arises through three programmatic objectives: i) Compile the genetic and biochemical information of the microbiome using omics technologies and the development of new methods of cultivation facilitating the search in depth of the existing biodiversity as well as how it establishes; ii) Explore the molecular mechanisms that allow microorganisms to resist extreme conditions and ultimately the high oxidative stress, in order to design new cellular chassis that can respond to these extreme conditions and are useful as possible cellular biofactories; iii) exploit the microbiome to isolate cultivable microorganisms and products of biotechnological interest useful for situations where these extreme conditions apply. All these objectives will be achieved using a variety of molecular biology technologies ranging from the most innovative microbiological and biochemical technologies for cultivation and selection of microorganisms to the modern techniques of synthetic biology, going through the omics technologies. HELIOS intends to address these objectives by collaborations between several groups of microbiologists, molecular biologists and biotechnologists from the Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology (University of Valencia), the CNB and CIB of CSIC, and the universities of Leon and Madrid, with the collaboration of one EPO (Biopolis SL), several of which are involved in the creation of I2SysBio, a new Institute for Integrative Systems Biology, which aims to tackle projects that require integrated approaches. HELIOS is therefore a proof of concept project to demonstrate the potential of such pluridisciplinary approaches that allow large data integration to solve problems and to provide useful products for the cosmetics industry (e.g., sunscreens, antioxidants) or the environmental sector (e.g., biofilters, bisosensors) which can certainly impact a society subjected to climate change, but at the same time which support the modern concept of the Bioeconomy. Finally the possibility offered by the coordination for training new specialists and for improving the international visibility of the groups is enormous and provides an additional capital for HELIOS.
This project is funded by MINECO as BIO2015-66960-C3-3-R.