The microbiologist Mari Carmen Montero Calasanz (1979, Arahal) has been working at the Andalusian Institute of Agriculture and Fisheries Research and Training (Ifapa) since 2021 where he wants to turn a fund of 3,600 bacteria into a “collection” that will illuminate the light. serious problems that affect agriculture and the environment. Since he finished his degree in Biology (University of Spain) in 2003, he has gone through different professional periods, each of them more interesting. He spent ten years abroad (Germany and the United Kingdom), specializing in microbial systematics (the study of the diversity of microorganisms and their relationships) and functional genomics, with applications in sustainable agriculture.
The physicist talks enthusiastically about everything his research group is doing, but especially about what they have to do. Because the thousands of bacteria that the Department of Inoculants Ifapa Las Torres in Alcalá del Río has selected for more than 45 years from the main agricultural products in Andalusia “the only microbial reservoir in Europe with great biotechnological potential in agriculture and the environment and has not yet been commercialized.
For this reason, its purpose is to evaluate these bioresources and the “Collection of Andalusian Microorganisms between agricultural and environmental matters”, which will also be a vehicle for the long-term preservation of these resources. “With climate change and ecosystem degradation, we are losing a great deal of biodiversity, which translates into an incalculable potential biotechnological loss,” he points out.
“Taxonomists are science geeks.” This is how the Arahalense biologist defines his property. He came to it when, in the role of the eminent German professor Hans-Peter Klenk, in the collection of German Micro-organisms of the Leibniz Institute-DSMZ, loaded with twenty microorganisms, after he had done his doctorate with a pre-doctoral grant funded by the FPI from the Republic. Obtain a research proposal and a one-year postdoctoral agreement funded by the European Social Fund through Ifapa.
Excellent track record
The first year he worked in Germany, he published up to five articles of his research in specialized journals. She hired and ran her own research group, where she stayed until her mentor, Professor Klenk, “to whom I owe who I am”, pulled her into the office of her dreams in Newcastle, UK.
In England he again set up his research group, taught undergraduate and postgraduate classes and his children were born. He has almost stayed because the resources that this country uses in research and situational operations have nothing to do with Spain. He is still directed by the Spanish teacher of three students from this university. but the roots pulled it out, and today it lives in Arahal.
He arrived in Spain in 2021, with a five-year contract from the Ramón y Cajal Program, whose objective is to promote the incorporation of research personnel, Spanish or foreign, at an excellent pace. She, together with her colleagues from the Inoculants Department, conducts several researches on the use of microorganisms as biofertilizers, biomediators against pests and diseases, and biomediators of toxic compounds in a sustainable agricultural framework.
In particular, one of these lines proposes the use of medicine for the concentrations of heavy metals in manured fields. “Well-managed manure application is a sustainable option that replaces chemical fertilizers because it is rich in nitrate and phosphorescent. However, the high concentrations of heavy metals that they present now mean that their application year after year has been more of a problem than a solution, as the metals accumulate in the soil.”
These heavy metals reach the animal through food. In lower concentrations they are essential microelements for the proper functioning of the body, but in high concentrations they produce an antibacterial effect and prevent infections, an option used by farmers who have a very restricted use of antibiotics.
Arahalense microbiologist leads the research group from Ifapa CG
Arahalense microbiologist leads the research group from Ifapa CG
The project, financed by the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan, microorganisms are associated with the roots of vegetables, which promote better growth without the need for nitrogen fertilizers, in addition to favoring the extraction of metals in suitable ranges that allow medical use. fodder for cattle This means reducing soil contamination and improving fertility, as well as obtaining biofortified food utility for animal use.
NASA and the coronavirus
the biologist specialized in the use of microorganisms for agriculture in dry land and his collection includes specimens from almost all deserts in the world (Sahara, Chad, Negev, Mojave, Sonora, Amargosa, Atacama, Antarctica), as well as other archaeological sites in Italy, Tunisia and Turkey located “Until recently, they were believed to have no meritorious life and are rich in bacterial diversity, whose biotechnological potential is not being exploited.”
The importance of their study is that they live in conditions of high radiation and desiccation. “Imagine how many applications can be found in how they remain for agriculture in arid areas, in dyes with free radicals that age or simply act as sunscreens.” Thanks to these microorganisms from the dry soil, the researcher has made certain collaborations with NASA, because these microorganisms can survive under the Martian atmosphere and can be used as biological chassis, in which the tools to implement that help in the human colonization of this planet.
A microbiologist explains the role of taxonomy when the coronavirus appeared. “It is the taxonomists who made the message of the tree, who explained how similar viruses already existed in nature and how they evolved when they changed and new variants appeared. Probably, this virus already existed in animals but jumped to the human species.
Mari Carmen Montero used the joke more than once in her classes to make her students understand that due to the great biodiversity of the world bacteria can be distinguished as “good, bad and ugly” (to emulate the title of the film directed by Sergio Leone with Clint Eastwood as the protagonist).
It is a human vision, but there are all species that do good, infections, or those that spoil the aesthetics of food, but its consumption does not harm. To progress in the study of microorganisms is to characterize their metabolism, their interactions and the benefits they can bring to living things and habitats. the Arahalense biologist worked for 20 years for this purpose.