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Home » Environment » Sentinel North Spans Complexity Scales to Probe the Arctic Microbiome
Yves DeKoninck

Yves De Koninck

Scientific Co-Director, Sentinel North & CRC in Chronic Pain and Related Brain Disorders, Université Laval

Marcel Babin

Marcel Babin

Scientific Co-Director, Sentinel North & CERC in Remote Sensing of Canada’s New Arctic Frontier (Laureate), Université Laval

Université Laval (Quebec City, Canada) supports interdisciplinary research and the deployment of novel technologies to shed light on the Arctic environmental microbiome and its impact on human health.

Probing a moving target

Climate change and anthropogenic activities are leading to a rapid and unprecedented transformation of the Arctic, impacting both environmental and human microbiomes. Understanding the Arctic human-environment interactome through the microbiome requires the ability to measure a wide array of critical variables in the least invasive fashion, in situ, in real-time, across space and time scales of several orders of magnitude, and with unparalleled precision. 

Sentinel North, a 100M$ research program funded in part by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, is Université Laval’s response to this challenge: it builds on the convergence of the institution’s strengths in optics-photonics, microbiology, and arctic research to enable sensing of vital phenomena across scales through the design of portable, robust, reliable, low energy consuming, highly sensitive, remotely accessible, distributed devices and sensors.

A paradigm shift is necessary in the way we study the changing Arctic environment.

Science convergence

Sentinel North brings together an extensive network of over 700 researchers and students from more than 40 Université Laval departments who work closely with northern partners, public and private sector organizations, as well as other universities and research institutes in more than 20 countries. The program now supports 70 interdisciplinary teams addressing challenges ranging from in situ probing the dynamics of cellular processes in the microbiome at the nanoscale to working with northern organizations to better understand links between the gut microbiome and mental health. 

Among them, researchers of the International Research Laboratory Takuvik, affiliated to Université Laval and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), are developing and deploying technologies to explore how climate change impacts the microorganisms flourishing in ice covered seas across multiple scales: endoscopes to examine in situ the living space of microorganisms directly within sea ice (A); systems and sensors deployed on underwater autonomous vehicles (AUV) to monitor phytoplankton dynamics at the regional scale under the receding Arctic Ocean icepack (B); satellite-based systems to monitor phytoplankton blooms at the scale of Arctic and sub-Arctic seas (C).

Other Sentinel North teams are racing against time and climate change to study the unique biodiversity of the microbiome thriving in the some of the most extreme environments on earth.

New tools and interdisciplinary approaches are also developed to investigate the role of the microbiome in the complex interactions between environment and health. Flavie Lavoie-Cardinal, physical scientist and CRC chairholder at the CERVO Brain Research Centre, combines optical super-resolution microscopy techniques with powerful data analysis strategies based on artificial intelligence to help Sentinel North Chairholder and neurobiologist Caroline Ménard measure the effect of certain dietary components and bacterial antigens on the permeability of the intestinal epithelial barrier to gain knowledge on their impact on cardiometabolic and mental disorders.

Advances in Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) microscopy allow us to observe, non-invasively, proteins (Claudin 3 in blue) from the tight junctions that form nanostructures regulating cellular permeability in mouse guts. Photo credit: Flavie Lavoie-Cardinal

Spanning across complexity scales, an international team led by CERC holder Prof. Vincenzo Di Marzo is investigating the impacts of rapid environmental and lifestyle changes on the endocannabinoidome-microbiome axis and occurrence of metabolic syndrome in northern populations.

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