07 Sep 2020 - Donato Giovannelli

My project CoEVOLVE - “Coevolution of Life and Planet: role of trace metal availability in the evolution of biogeochemically relevant redox metalloenzymes” - has been awarded 2.1 M Euro by the European Research Council within the ERC Starting Grant 2020 scheme. The project will be broadly looking at the coevolution of Life and Earth through the lens of oxidoreductase protein evolution and the role of trace metal availability in controlling it. The project will last 5 years and involve a number of different expertise, including microbial physiology, genomics, proteomics and geochemistry. Soon I’ll be opening up some PhD and Postdoctoral positions to work on the project, so keep an eye on the website and my twitter feed if interested. There will be also a section of the website dedicated to the project, where we will report on all the major advances. For now please find below the abstract extracted from the project proposal and the new project logo designed by Patricia Barcala Domínguez.

The project will look at how the diversity and distribution of trace elements can influence the diversity and evolution of biogeochemically-relevant oxidoreductase proteins. Logo credit: Patricia Barcala Domínguez

Project abstract Earth’s geosphere and biosphere have coevolved over time, influencing each other’s stability and keeping our planet habitable over the last 4 billion years. Biogeochemical cycles are crucial in this mechanism, connecting long-term geological cycles and the much faster evolution of the Earth’s outer envelopes. A small set of microbial-encoded proteins containing a redox-sensitive transition metal as their core catalytic center carry out the majority of the key biogeochemical reactions. Metals such as Fe, Co, Ni, Zn, Mo, W, V, and Cu are used in these proteins to access diverse redox couples as a function of what the planet has provided to biology over time. Despite the importance of this process, the relationship between metal availability and metabolism evolution and diversity has not been investigated in detail. COEVOLVE will elucidate the impact of transition metal availability on microbial functional diversity in deep time, combining fieldwork, laboratory experiments, and computational approaches. COEVOLVE will: 1) investigate the relationship between the availability of trace metals and microbial functional diversity in extant ecosystems and organisms; 2) link metabolic diversity and metal availability to different geological, geochemical, and mineralogical conditions; 3) link metabolic diversity and dependence on metal availability to the emergence and evolution of different metabolisms; and 4) determine the timing of major steps in metabolic evolution and link them to geochemical proxies of planetary surface redox change. Understanding the role of trace metal environmental distribution and availability in influencing microbial functional diversity might hold the key to understanding the co-evolution of life and our planet, unlocking a number of important discoveries at the core of diverse fields such as earth sciences, astrobiology, microbial ecology, and biotechnology.

Press Coverage Here the link to the official announcement from the European Research Council.