• We investigate pollutants and nutrients in the environment.

  • We elucidate processes and mechanisms in the field and laboratory.

  • We explore biochemical reactions that shape the environment.

  • We study DNA preservation in rocks to investigate environmental biomes.

  • We explore the nanoscale to understand processes of global relevance.

  • We use models to quantify processes and mechanisms.

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Latest publications

Technology readiness and overcoming barriers to sustainably implement nanotechnology-enabled plant agriculture

Nanotechnology offers potential solutions for sustainable agriculture, including increasing nutrient utilization efficiency, improving the efficacy of pest management, mitigating the impacts of climate change, and reducing adverse environmental impacts of agricultural food production. Many promising nanotechnologies have been proposed and evaluated at different scales, but several barriers to implementation must be addressed for technology to be adopted, including efficient delivery at field scale, regulatory and safety concerns, and consumer acceptance. Here we explore these barriers, and rank technology readiness and potential impacts of a wide range of agricultural applications of nanotechnology. We propose pathways to overcome these barriers and develop effective, safe and acceptable nanotechnologies for agriculture.

Thilo Hofmann, Gregory Victor Lowry, Subhasis Ghoshal, Nathalie Tufenkji, Davide Brambilla, John Robert Dutcher, Leanne M. Gilbertson, Juan Pablo Giraldo, Joseph Matthew Kinsella, Markita Patricia Landry, Wess Lovell, Rafik Naccache, Mathews Paret, Joel Alexander Pedersen, Jason Michael Unrine, Jason Christopher White, Kevin James Wilkinson
2020 - Nature food, 1: 416–425

Genome wide transcriptomic analysis of the soil ammonia oxidizing archaeon Nitrososphaera viennensis upon exposure to copper limitation

Ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) are widespread in nature and are involved in nitrification, an essential process in the global nitrogen cycle. The enzymes for ammonia oxidation and electron transport rely heavily on copper (Cu), which can be limited in nature. In this study the model soil archaeon Nitrososphaera viennensis was investigated via transcriptomic analysis to gain insight regarding possible Cu uptake mechanisms and compensation strategies when Cu becomes limiting. Upon Cu limitation, N. viennensis exhibited impaired nitrite production and thus growth, which was paralleled by downregulation of ammonia oxidation, electron transport, carbon fixation, nucleotide, and lipid biosynthesis pathway genes. Under Cu-limitation, 1547 out of 3180 detected genes were differentially expressed, with 784 genes upregulated and 763 downregulated. The most highly upregulated genes encoded proteins with a possible role in Cu binding and uptake, such as the Cu chelator and transporter CopC/D, disulfide bond oxidoreductase D (dsbD), and multicopper oxidases. While this response differs from the marine strain Nitrosopumilus maritimus, conserved sequence motifs in some of the Cu-responsive genes suggest conserved transcriptional regulation in terrestrial AOA. This study provides possible gene regulation and energy conservation mechanisms linked to Cu bioavailability and presents the first model for Cu uptake by a soil AOA.

Carolina Reyes, Logan H. Hodgskiss, Melina Kerou, Thomas Pribasnig, Sophie S. Abby, Barbara Bayer, Stephan M. Kraemer, Christa Schleper
2020 - The ISME journal, in press

Anthropogenic gadolinium in freshwater and drinking water systems

The increasing use of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) for magnetic resonance imaging is leading to widespread contamination of freshwater and drinking water systems. Contrary to previous assumptions that GBCAs are stable throughout the water cycle, they can degrade. The stability of GBCAs depends largely on their organic ligands, but also on the physicochemical conditions. There is specific concern regarding UV end-of-pipe water treatments, which may degrade GBCAs. Degradation products in drinking water supplies can increase the risk of adverse health effects. This is of particular relevance where the raw water for drinking water production has a higher proportion of recycled wastewater. GBCAs concentrations in aquatic systems, often referred to as anthropogenic gadolinium, are determined using a variety of calculation methods. Where anthropogenic gadolinium concentrations are low, the inconsistent use of these methods results in high discrepancies and high levels of uncertainty. The current COVID-19 crisis will, in the short-term, drastically decrease the input of GBCAs to freshwater systems. Temporal variations in anthropogenic gadolinium concentrations in river water can be used to better understand river-aquifer interactions and groundwater flow velocities. Collecting urine from all patients following MRI examinations could be a way forward to halt the generally increasing concentrations of Gd in drinking water systems and recover this technologically critical element.

Robert Brünjes and Thilo Hofmann
2020 - Water Research, 182: 115966