Meet FEMS Expert: Dr Ramon Rossello-Mora

13-06-2017 Erin Frick

Dr Ramon Rossello-Mora is a member of the European Academy of Microbiology (EAM). The EAM is a leadership group of around 130 eminent microbiology experts who came together in 2009 to amplify the impact of microbiology and microbiologists in Europe.
Ramon Rossello-Mora

Dr Ramon Rossello-Mora is a researcher of the Spanish Council (CSIC) at the IMEDEA in Esporles, Mallorca where he leads the Marine Microbiology Group (MMG). He is also an executive editor of the journal, Systematic and Applied Microbiology and has been committed to the Judicial Commission of the International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes for a period of nine years (2005-2014).

Could you tell us what your research is about?

“Our current research focuses on the systematics and diversity of both uncultured and cultured prokaryotes, especially those which thrive in extreme environments such as hypersaline saltern ponds and are associated with jellyfish. We have also researched anaerobic marine sediment microbiota, focusing on the degradation of oil derivatives. We use molecular tools to reveal diversity and we use the NGS platforms for amplicon analysis, metagenomics, and metatranscriptomics of environmental samples. For culturing, we use the large-scale tandem approach involving MALDI-TOF MS identification and 16S rRNA gene phylogenies.

One of the most significant findings in our work was the unexpected discovery of Salinibacter ruber, the first bacterium known to thrive in hypersaline brines in high density and with high ecological relevance. Over the past 15 years, we have isolated strains of this species and studied their diversity by means of genomics and metabolomics. We were pioneers in performing the (at that time) closest genome-to-genome comparisons. We could also reveal an incipient allopatric speciation of members of the species by means of metabolomics. The most challenging aspect of our studies concerning Salinibacter is the high rate of intraspecific diversity thriving in the same environment. The microdiversity in genomes and metabolomes of members of this genus in a given sampling site is enormous despite being one of the only bacterial lineages to inhabit such environments. We think that the studies on such hypersaline environments, which appear to have low diversity complexity, are excellent subjects of study for understanding speciation and the meaning of ‘species’ in bacteriology.”

What’s your research team like?

“Our current research project deals with the diversity of Bacteroidetes along the salinity and evolutionary gradient. We especially focus on community composition changes in relation to environmental pressures, and the interaction between prokaryotes and their viruses. We coordinate these projects with the groups of Josefa Antón of Alicante University and Eduardo González-Pastor of the Astrobiology Centre in Madrid, in order to generate a synergic output of our research that ranges from genomics, metagenomics, metatranscriptomics, metaviromics, and metabolomics to large-scale bacterial cultivation and virus isolation. Two permanent staff members (a technical assistant and myself), four PhD students, two non-permanent technical assistants, and two pre-graduate students currently form the Marine Microbiology Group (MMG). We are a small, but well organized department. We hold weekly meetings and maintain a good working atmosphere, which allows us to keep aware of one another’s progress.”

Tell us about yourself.

“I am an afternoon worker; so better to disturb me in the morning when I am dealing with the exponentially increasing bureaucracy in which we are all immersed. I believe, at least in Spain, that the amount of paperwork to be done actually disturbs the main scientific activities. The time after lunch is dedicated to science: writing, reading and thinking. However, what I most enjoy is when I can do some lab work by myself. I still do my own cultures and experiments, however, not so often as I would like. Of course, sampling is also a very enjoyable activity, alongside making new discoveries.

A momentous breakthrough

I’ve experienced several breakthrough moments during my research career. Demonstrating what is hypothesised is always very satisfying, but happening upon something completely unexpected – such as the discovery of Salinibacter, which contradicted all expectations – produces a mixture of enormous satisfaction and intellectual vertigo. Dr Josefa Antón and I experienced this instance of serendipity while watching a microscope slide 17 years ago, and it determined the course of our careers. Since our initial discovery, this object of study has led us to complete, as a team, six consecutive national projects for the Spanish Ministry as well as many papers and talks.”

Rossello-Mora Group
Dr Ramon Rossello-Mora’s research group

You can catch up with Dr Ramon Rossello-Mora as he gives a talk at the Congress in Valencia this July.

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