There are five research platforms available at NB_Lab (Ikiam) for the exchange program:
1. Exploring the biodiversity of the amazon landscape
The Ecuadorian section of the amazon basin is a biodiversity hotspot explored just partially. Several Ikiam University scientists, staff and students have contributed to elucidate some of this diversity by describing new metabolites and toxins associated with fungi, plants, reptiles and birds as well as performing the first campaign of DNA barcoding in the region. Nowadays, the overall goal of this team is to explore representative samples in real time. From describing trophic networks in aquatic systems using terrariums to automatizing ecological monitoring, this team is moving towards the description of the region by using the so-called next generation of natural history.
The tools used by Ikiam specialists to perform their sampling campaigns include (but not are limited to): genetics, genomics and bioinformatic methods; aircraft- and satellite-based remote sensing; camera-traps and acoustic recorders; micro–cosmos and last generation of real time DNA sequencing tools.
2. Effects of global warming at different altitude gradients
Ikiam University scientists and staff have access to perform research in the Colonso–Chalupas biological reserve, a more than (almost pristine) 94 000 ha national park. Another feature of the biological reserve is that it has an extraordinary altitude gradient, from 560 to 4432 m asl. The main goal of the team is to develop microcosmos at different altitudes in order to measure the effects of global warming on some ecosystemic processes (i. e. gas exchange, chlorophyll concentration; microdiversity indexes, soil moisture). Terrariums and aquariums are being developed in partner institutions and will soon allow real time monitoring of the effects of increases in altitude and temperature (+ 2°C).
Other research areas available for the Erasmus + exchange program are: (1) the use of ecological niche modeling with focus in conservation and (2) Using remote sensing as a tool to predict the optimal regional planning in different global warming scenarios (i. e. flooding by glacier melting).
3. Geophysical, geochemical and geomorphological insights on the northern Andean volcanic belt
Much of the richness available in the Ecuadorian sections of the amazon basin came from the Andean mountains. Each week, hundreds of tons of sediments and millions of cubic meters of water are transported from the Andes to the amazon basin. To elucidate the connections and effects of geological issues (sediments and nutrient transport, geochemical cycles, earthquakes, evolution of soil) on the biodiversity and hydrology of the Amazon basin, is the primary goal of this team.
Another goal of this team is to develop scattered research stations within the northern andean volcanic belt and Colonso–Chalupas National Park to quantify several properties of the subduction of the Nazca plate by using seismic tomography as well as cutting–edge geomorphology, geochemical and sedimentology techniques.
4. Microbial ecology and ecotoxicology of fluvial systems
A considerable strain is being exerted on the fluvial systems in Ecuador’s amazon region. Unplanned urban growth, illegal mining activities, inadequate design of landfill assets and de facto reuse of wastewater are the main factors that are exerting an unstoppable pressure on the water bodies. The evaluation of the ecological risk and ecotoxicology on aquatic environments; the real time monitoring of quality and quantity of water and wastewater; the use of passive samplers to concentrate and identify organic compounds in fluvial systems; the microstructural features of membrane fouling; are some of the subset projects of this platform that are now being conducted by Ikiam scientists, staff and students.
A future signature project of this research platform will be related to elucidate the virome of several fluvial systems and floodplains in the region. To do that, this team will use VIRADEL (VIrus ADsorption and ELution) techniques, –which includes the use of automated ultrafiltration devices– and cutting–edge molecular biology approaches (such as Multiple Displacement Amplification for viral DNA/RNA isothermal amplification and MinION devices for in situ DNA/RNA sequencing).
5. Removal and inactivation of compounds of emerging concern and waterborne pathogens and photocatalytic membranes
Exploratory research performed by Ikiam revealed that several rivers in the zone contained micro molar concentrations of compounds of emerging concern (CEC) such as residues of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP), water disinfection by–products (DBP), microcystins, among others. In addition, metals, pathogen microorganisms and microplastics from other anthropogenic activities have also reached the water of the rivers. The presence of this “cocktail” of substances represents a risk to the environment and human health. It is necessary to develop new treatment technologies that guarantee the complete elimination of CEC from wastewater to avoid them reaching water reservoirs. Thus, the goal of this team is to develop photocatalytic membrane reactors (PMR), small disinfection devices based on membrane separations coupled to advanced oxidation processes (AOP) that are capable of removing and inactivating viruses and oxidizing most of the CEC.
The strategy to develop these membrane photocatalytic reactors includes the following stages: (a) The synthesis and instrumental characterization of novel visible light active photocatalysts (such as bismuth oxyhalides, BiOX; in which X = Iodine, Chlorine, Fluorine); (b) its deposition on porous (ceramic membranes) and non–porous substrates (walls, floors); (c) The testing of its efficiency against viruses and CEC and (d) Analysis on BiOX cytotoxicity versus different cell lineages.
In order to reach broader impact in society, a set of activities on participatory science have been designed: Research clubs (#CDi) are open spaces for planning and operating prototypes, mostly oriented to technology staff and juniors/seniors (Note: they are active and are helping in the development of the small research stations). Scientific writing spots (#SWS) promote the development of research plans and manuscripts, they are usually offered as optional courses for junior/seniors and subsets from them are being developed at high schools in Tena.
Boot Camps (#BoC) are oriented to the co-development of small research stations and involve the participation of most of the stakeholders. To date, two #BoC have been organized at Ikiam University, the spirit of collaboration observed during those activities have been to promote the design and operativity of the small research stations (Plots, prototypes and photos). Science fairs (#SciFi) will be organized on an annual basis at Tena City and will be oriented to K12 scholars.