NTU Biodiversity Center Discovered Indigenous Species
Every year on May 22nd, nations of the world celebrate the International Biodiversity Day. NTU's Biodiversity Research Center recently announced its research results, which included the discovery of three extremely salt-tolerant microorganisms. After in-depth study of their physiological and biochemical properties and comparison of their nucleic sequences, these newly found microorganisms have been verified as new species by the international depository authorities. NTU Biodiversity Research Center has named these three microorganisms after Taiwan's locality and the new names have been accepted by the international journal (International Journal of Systemic and Evolutionary Microbiology) and institution (International Code of Nomenclature of Bacteria) which are responsible for the christening and classification of newly found species.
The forefathers of Taiwan have a long history of making salt by boiling sea water. During the Koxinga occupation of Taiwan in the late Ming Dynasty, salt fields were built at Lai-ko near the Tainan Fort in 1665. Up to 2002 when all the solar salt fields were closed, Taiwan has a history of salt making for three and half centuries. In addition to providing diverse political, economic, and cultural memories, these salt fields in Southern Taiwan also bred many surprisingly new extreme species throughout the years.
The research team of NTU's Biodiversity Center explored the salt fields along the Tainan coastal area (including Chi-gu, Bei-men, Szu-tsao, and An-sun), and was able to isolate and christen three new species, which are: Virgibacillus chuguensis sp. nov., Halomonas beimensis sp. nov., and Marinobacter szitsapmemsos sp. nov. The extremely salt tolerant traits of these new species, such as Virgibacillus chiguensis's ability to surivive and breed in nearly 30% salt concentration was quite amazing, so NTU's discovery of these new species has attracted widespread attention from both domestic and international academic and industrial institutions.
The discovery of extremely salt tolerant new microorganisms signifies the diverse and abundant genetic resources of Taiwan, as well as our strength at scientific research, and our efforts toward preserving biodiversity. In addition, it has profound implications for multi-level research and development.
In fundamental bio-medical studies, because the salt tolerant bacteria can withstand high osmotic pressure, they can serve as good materials for cell ion exchange and basic research in the regulatory mechanism of permeability.
In plant biotechnology, the genes related to salt tolerance and salt regulation can be implanted into the cells of plants by way of genetic engineering, so as to develop the salt tolerance capability of the plants. In this way, we can develop genetically altered plants which can grow in barren and high salt concentration areas, thereby solving the food shortage problem in difficult regions.
In the cosmetic industry, also owing to the ability of the salt tolerant bacteria to withstand high osmotic pressure, they can be made into the important ingredients for cosmetic and medical products which need to maintain water and moisture.
In environmental engineering and renewable energy resources, such as converting urban waste and kitchen waste into renewable energy, the salt tolerant bacteria can take care of environmental protection and reduce our dependence on fossil energy at the same time. If we can convert salt tolerant bacteria into biomass energy, we can reduce the energy consumption and emission of pollution in the desalination process, and greatly enhance our economic competitiveness.
The UN General Assembly meeting held in December, 2000 declared May 22nd to be the International Day for Biodiversity, to highlight the date upon which the multi-national treaty for biodiversity was passed. From the date of the Treaty's implementation on December 29th 1992 till now, a total of 191 nations have signed the Treaty, and most of them were members nations of the UN. In point of fact, the Biodiversity Treaty Organization of the UN is the largest international treaty organization in the world today in terms of its binding power in accordance with international law. Inasmuch as Taiwan is not a member nation of the UN, Taiwan cannot become a signing party, but through the joint efforts of our government and academia, Taiwan has participated in the operation of the Treaty and abided by its spirit from the very beginning.
Starting from the 1990's, a number of NTU professors have been commissioned by the Taiwanese government to attend the various meetings and conferences organized by the UN Biodiversity Treaty Organization, and implemented many large scale domestic projects. Among these, the "ROC Project to promote biodiversity" was co-drafted by NTU faculty and was approved in the 2747th meeting of the Executive Yuan. Ever since its implementation, the results of the Project has been quite striking. NTU was also the first academic institution in Taiwan to set up a university level "Biodiversity Research Center" in November of 2001. The Center integrated teachers from eleven different colleges to jointly promote biodiversity-related teaching and research and to cooperate with academic institutions both at home and abroad.