The aim of this project is to study the possibility of exploiting solar energy through the photosynthetic process even in near-dark condition, investigating the case of karst caves in Lessinia area (Verona, Italy).
Cyanobacteria represent a widespread phylum of oxygenic phototrophic microorganisms with some species being reported to remodel their photosynthetic apparatus depending on the light quality, using a different set of chlorophylls, chl d and chl f allowing those species to absorb even the near infrared (NIR) radiation. Recently, it has been demonstrated that cyanobacteria species can be found even in the twilight zones of wet cave entrances potentially carrying out photosynthesis exploiting NIR radiation. To investigate the occurrence, distribution and functional properties of cyanobacteria in Lessina caves, the most suitable karst caves will be selected in collaboration with the partners Commissione Speleologica Veronese, Parco della Lessinia and Associazione Museo dei Fossili della Lessinia contributing with geological and climatological knowledge and providing logistical support during the project sampling phase.
Several sampling sites will be selected along the light gradient that forms in cave entrances. Composition to collect environmental data and microorganisms samples. Taxonomic classification of microorganisms will be then assed by microbial and metagenomic analyses in collaboration with of the Zoology Section of Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Verona and the Limnology & Phycology Section of MUSE – (Trento) to get a complete view of the trophic chain and the ecology of the micro-niches present in the various parts of the caves.
The occurrence and functions of red-shifted pigments in the microorganisms samples will be then investigated by biochemical and biophysical analysis in collaboration with the Department of Physics, Polytechnic of Milan.