Annick Wilmotte

Research Associate FRS_FNRS

Detailed information

Publication list

Research interests

  • Molecular approaches to taxonomy and ecology of cyanobacteria
  • Microbial biodiversity and phylogeny
  • Planktonic cyanobacteria forming toxic blooms in surface waters
  • Biogeography of polar cyanobacteria (Antarctic and Arctic)
  • Genomic research on Arthrospira (‘spirulina’) and polar cyanobacteria, and search for secondary metabolites
  • Importance of cyanobacteria in the search for life traces in fossil rocks, including the UV-screening pigments
  • Conservation of the Antarctic ecosystems and microbial terrestrial biotopes

Research summary

Cyanobacteria are the core of our research, focussed on a polyphasic approach to their diversity, phylogeny, biogeography and taxonomy. This means that we include, as far as possible, cultivation-dependent and –independent methods, and phenotypic (morphological) and molecular characterizations. The studied cyanobacterial populations come from a variety of biotopes: Azolla symbioses, blooms in freshwater lakes, marine plankton, rock surfaces, microbial mats, soil crusts, biofilms… We had the chance to become involved in polar research and got very interested in the biodiversity and biogeography of Antarctic and Arctic cyanobacteria, where we recently could apply High-Throughput Sequencing methods.

Cyanobacteria have been very important for the evolution of our planet, and we also collaborate with Prof. E. Javaux (Geology Dept, Ulg) on the isolation and characterization of the compounds, mostly pigments, that they can be used as ‘traces of life’ in astrobiological studies. Moreover, cyanobacteria seem to have a diversity of UV-screening pigments (e.g. scytonemin, gloeocapsin) that are not yet so well known.

We have built a collection of strains that has formed the core of the BCCM/ULC culture collection of cyanobacteria that was supported since 2011 by the Belgian Coordinated Collections of Microorganisms (BELSPO). This public collection, currently contains one of the largest collections of documented (sub)polar cyanobacteria worldwide.

As cyanobacteria are prolific producers of secondary compounds, we have started to determine and explore the genome sequences of some BCCM/ULC strains for gene clusters known to produce bioactive molecules. The activities are also tested in collaboration with P. Jacques (MIPI, Ulg) and P. Becker (BCCM/IHEM, Brussels).

Lab members

  • Yannick Lara (Postdoc)
  • Fabien Borderie (Postdoc)
  • Charlotte Crahay (Scientist)
  • Igor Stelmach Pessi (PhD student)
  • Benoit Durieux (PhD student)
  • Marine Renard (Technician)

Selected publications

  1. Stelmach Pessi, I., De Carvalho Maalouf, P., Laughinghouse, H. D., Baurain, D., & Wilmotte, A. (2016). On the use of high-throughput sequencing for the study of cyanobacterial diversity in Antarctic aquatic mats. Journal of Phycology52:356-368.
  1. Hughes, K., Cowan, D., & Wilmotte, A. (2015). Protection of Antarctic microbial communities–‘out of sight, out of mind’. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6, 1-6.
  1. Lara, Y., Lambion, A., Menzel, D., Codd, G., & Wilmotte, A. (2013). A cultivation-independent approach for the genetic and cyanotoxin characterization of colonial cyanobacteria. Aquatic Microbial Ecology, 69, 135-143.
  1. Papaefthimiou, D., Van Hove, C., Lejeune, A., Rasmussen, U., & Wilmotte, A. (2008). Diversity and host specificity of Azolla cyanobionts. Journal of Phycology, 44, 60-70.
  1. Taton, A., Grubisic, S., Ertz, D., Hodgson, D. A., Piccardi, R., Biondi, N., Tredici, M. R., Mainini, M., Losi, D., Marinelli, F., & Wilmotte, A. (2006). Polyphasic study of Antarctic cyanobacterial strains. Journal of Phycology, 42, 1257-1270.