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Rossella Pistocchi

Associate Professor

Department of Biological, Geological, and Environmental Sciences

Academic discipline: BIO/01 General Botany


1) Isolation and cultivation of microalgae, collected during episodes of mussel toxicity, red tides or mucilage production, in order to identify the causative organism and to study the environmental conditions which influence the proliferation and the amount of toxins produced.

2) Study of the effect of microalgae exposition to pollutants and evaluation of physiological responses.

3) Characterization of microalgae useful for phytoremediation, biomass and biomolecules or biofuel production.

1) Phytoplankton organisms represent the first ring of the trophic chain however some species can be harmful to the environment or to human health; this is due to the following problems: i) Hypoxic or anoxic events due to biomass decay after blooms; ii) production of toxins affecting men or animals; iii) foam accumulation causing damage to benthic organisms or to economic activities (tourism and fishery). Phytoplankton species involved in these events change from year to year as, for example, in the Adriatic sea at the end of ‘80s there were mainly Dinophysis species producing okadaic acid while since 1995 the prevailing toxic species was represented by the yessotoxin producer Protoceratium reticulatum. New problems recently arose such as: presence of new species producing  yessotoxins, presence of A. ostenfeldii which produces spirolids, identification of domoic acid traces in mussels whose producer was not yet identified, intense blooms of potentially icthyotoxic algae, such as Fibrocapsa japonica, and appearance of algae of the genus Ostreopsis which cause respiratory distress in people walking on the beach. In collaboration with monitoring and prevention agency and with chemist groups, a research activity is performed aimed at the isolation and cultivation of the above mentioned microalgae and at the study of the environmental conditions, biotic and abiotic, which influence the proliferation and the amount of toxins produced. Large culture amounts are also performed in view of the structural characterization and purification of relevant toxins.

2) Pollutants in the marine environment arise from different sources giving rise to socio-economic damages (tourism and fishery) and consequences to human health, due to ingestion of contaminated seafood. Human health damage is the final and visible effect of a long chain impacts on marine organisms (phytoplankton, mussels, fishes). In fact, the toxic effect of pollutants is already detectable at the primary producers level and is at this level that attention must be focused in order to prevent ecosystem damages, considering also that actual climate changes such as temperature and CO2 increase could have synergic effects. The research activity in this field is aimed at the study of the effect of pollutants (heavy metals, antibiotics, herbicides) on phytoplankton growth, photosynthetic efficiency, nutrient uptake, cell chlorophyll and carbon content. The study is performed by applying different pollutant concentrations to phytoplankton cultures grown at different temperatures; the results were also utilized for the definition of mathematical formulations which will be used in tri-dimensional numerical models of phytoplankton primary production.

3) The industrial utilization of microalgae is promising in that these organisms can be cultured by supplying waste water or waste CO2 and the obtained biomass can be a source of many useful compounds. The research is aimed at evaluating the use of microalgae in water treatments with the purposes of collecting biomass and utilizing it for biofuel production or for different purposes. As a first step algal strains are selected on the basis of their growth ability, biomass production and kind of compounds produced by performing the experiments at optimal level of light, temperature and with the addition of CO2. The selected strains are then grown in waste water where the following parameters are measured: growth rate, biomass production, nitrate, ammonium or phosphate removal; the algae are also characterized in terms of biochemical composition and photosynthetic efficiency. In collaboration with different laboratories studies are also performed on biomass transformation and collection. Growth and phytodepuration studies in pilot open ponds and photobioreactor are in progress.

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