Daniela Billi
Daniela Billi
affiliation: Università di Roma Tor Vergata
research area(s): Cell Biology, Molecular Biology
Course: Cell and Molecular Biology
University/Istitution: Università di Roma Tor Vergata
Birth Date: October 12th 1967 Rome, Italy

Work Address: University of Rome "Tor Vergata", Department of Biology
Via della Ricerca Scientifica,s.n.c 00133 Rome, Italy
phone: +39 0672594341 (4332)
fax: +39 062023500
e-mail: billi@uniroma2.it


1992-Degree with honours in Biological Sciences, University of Rome "La Sapienza"
1996-PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”
1998-Specialization in Biotechnology Applications, University of Rome “Tor Vergata”


2000-today Researcher (Botany BIO/01), University of Rome "Tor Vergata", Department of Biology, Rome, Italy
1998-2000 Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Biochemistry and Virginia Tech Center for Genomics, Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA, USA)
1997-998 Visiting Scientist, Department of Biological Science and Polar Desert Research Center, Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL, USA)

2001-2002. Responsible scientist of a Grant for Young-Researchers –MIUR
2005-2009. Responsible scientist of Fondi FAA (ex M.U.R.S.T. 60%)
2006-2009. Co-responsible of a WP of the MoMa project (ASI)
2008-2010 Italian coordinator of a Selected Significant Bilateral Project, MAE (ITALY-USA,NASA)
2011-2012 Italian coordinator of a Selected Significant Bilateral Project, MAE (ITALY-USA,NASA)
2011 Science Team Members of two proposals selected by ESA-ILSRA AO2009
2012 PI of two ESA-ILSRA AO2009 proposals selected by ASI for funding.
I investigate the way in which desert cyanobacteria can survive severe water stress, extremes of temperature and radiations. Researches focus on hot and cold desert strains of Chroococcidiopsis that provide a unique link among astrobiology, anhydrobiosis and biotechnology.

Cyanobacteria of the genus Chroococcidiopsis thrive at the physical limit of life in extremely dry hot and cold deserts, like the Dry Valleys in Antarctica and the Atacama Desert in Chile, which are considered the closest terrestrial analogs of Mars. Thus they represent a useful model to broaden our knowledge of the limits of life, which is critical for understanding how life might have established in other planets (like Mars) and how it can cope with the space environment. The research plan is to capitalize on their capability to survive conditions which are lethal to the majority of the organisms, like desiccation and high doses of ionizing radiation, and expose them to simulated Martian and space conditions. Ongoing researches are dealing with the investigation of their survival strategies after space exposure on the International Space Station; experiments are currently carried out in the frame of ESA projects dealing with lithopanspermia, identification of biosignatures for life detection on Mars, limits of life and planetary protection.

In nature Chroococcidiopsis cells withstand the physiological constraints imposed by the complete removal of water, prolonged desiccation and subsequent rewetting, a phenomenon known as anhydrobiosis (life without water). These cyanobacteria are able to repair and/or avoid damages induced by desiccation, which span from those mediated by reactive oxygen species to those caused by phospholipid bilayers phase transition. Research aims to unravel the interplay between protection and repair mechanisms which allow desiccation-survivors to avoid genomic DNA fragmentation, plasma membrane damage, photosynthetic pigment bleaching and reduce the accumulation of reactive oxygen species. The future availability of the genome sequence of four desert strains of Chroococcidiopsis (Billi D and Pointing B.S) will provide insights into the molecular aspects of their desiccation tolerance.

To date desert strains of Chroococcidiopsis are the only desiccation-, radiation–tolerant cyanobacteria suitable to genetic manipulation. Research takes advantage of the molecular biology tools already developed for these prokaryotes, which include shuttle plasmids, gene inactivation and GFP-tagging. Long term goal is to use the tricks employed by Chroococcidiopsis to survive desiccation to develop novel technologies in air drying filed.

1.de Vera J-P, Boettger U, de la Torre R, Sánchez FJ, Grunow D, Schmitz N, Lange C, Hüber H-W, Billi D et al. 2012. Supporting Mars exploration: BIOMEX in Low Earth Orbit and further astrobiological studies on the Moon using Raman and PanCam technology. Planetary and Space Science, in press.
2.Zammit G, Billi D, Albertano P. 2012. The subaerophytic cyanobacterium Oculatella subterranea (Oscillatoriales, Cyanophyceae) gen. et sp. nov: a cytomorphological and molecular description. European Journal of Phycology 4, in press.
3.Billi D. 2012. Plasmid stability in dried cells of the desert cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis and its potential for GFP imaging of survivors on Earth and in space. Origin of Life and Evolution of Biospheres 42:235-245.
4.Stivaletta N, Barbieri R, Billi D. 2012. Microbial colonization of the salt deposits in the driest place of the Atacama Desert (Chile). Origin of life and Evolution of Biospheres 42:143-52.
5.Billi D 2012. Anhydrobiotic rock- inhabiting cyanobacteria: potential for astrobiology and biotechnology. In: Adaptation of Microbial Life Organisms in Extreme Environments: Novel Research Results and Application (eds Stan-Lotter H, Fendrihan F) Springer Wien New York, pp 119-132.
6.Billi D, Viaggiu E, Cockell CS, Rabbow E, Horneck G, Onofri S. 2011. Damage escape and repair in dried Chroococcidiopsis spp. from hot and cold deserts exposed to simulated space and Martian conditions. Astrobiology 11:65-73.
7.Zammit G, Billi D, Shubert, Kaštovský J, Albertano P. 2011. The biodiversity of subaerophytic phototrophic biofilms from Maltese hypogea. Fottea 11:187–201
8.Billi D 2010. Genetic tools for desiccation-, radiation-tolerant cyanobacteria of the genus Chroococcidiopsis In: Current Research, Technology and Education Topics in Applied Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology. Vol II, Format Research Center, pp 1517-1521.
9.Billi D. 2009. Subcellular integrities in Chroococcidiopsis sp. CCMEE 029 survivors after prolonged desiccation revealed by molecular probes and genome stability assays. Extremophiles 13:49-57.
10.Billi D. 2009. Loss of topological relationships in a Pleurocapsalean cyanobacterium (Chroococcidiopsis sp.) with partially inactivated ftsZ. Annals of Microbiology 59:1-4.
11.Bruno L, Billi D, Bellezza S, Albertano P. 2009. Cytomorphological and genetic characterization of troglobitic Leptolyngbya strains isolated from roman hypogea. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 75: 608-617.
12.Cockell CS, Schuerger AC, Billi D, Friedmann EI, Panitz C. 2007. Photosynthetic organisms on Mars-prospects and limitations. In Responses of microorganisms to the Martian environment-Report of the ROME topical Team, (eds Horneck G, Cockell CS). ESA SP-1298, European Space Agency, Noordwijk, The Netherlands. pp. 99-116.
13.Grilli Caiola M, Billi D. 2007. Chroococcidiopsis from desert to Mars. In: Algae and Cyanobacteria in Extreme Environments. Series: Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology, Vol.11 (ed Seckbach J), Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp. 553-568
14.Bruno L, Billi D, Urzì C, Albertano P. 2006. Genetic characterisation of epilithic cyanobacteria and their associated bacteria. Geomicrobiology Journal 23: 293-299.
15.Bruno L, Billi D, Albertano, P. 2005. Optimization of molecular techniques applied to the taxonomy of epilithic Leptolyngbya strains. Arch. Hydrobiol., Algological Studies 117: 197-207.
16.Cockell CS, Schuerger AC, Billi D, Friedmann EI, Panitz C.2005. Effects of a Simulated Martian UV Flux on the cyanobacterium, Chroococcidiopsis sp. 029. Astrobiology. 5:127-140.
17.Billi D, Potts M. 2002. Life and death of dried prokaryotes. Res. Microbiol. 153:7-12.
18.Billi D, Friedmann EI, Helm RF, Potts M. 2001. Gene transfer to the desiccation-tolerant cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis. J. Bacteriol. 183: 2298-2305.
19.Billi D, Wright DJ, Helm RF, Prickett T, Potts M, Crowe JH.2000. Engineering desiccation tolerance in Escherichia coli. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 66:1680-1684.
20.Billi D, Friedmann EI, Hofer KG, Grilli Caiola M, Ocampo-Friedmann R.2000. Ionizing-radiation resistance in the desiccation-tolerant cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 66:1489-1492.
21.Billi D, Potts M. 2000. Life without water: responses of prokaryotes to desiccation. In: Environmental stressors and gene responses (eds Storey KB, Storey JM). Elsevier Science Amsterdam, The Netherlands. pp. 181-192.
22.Billi D, Grilli Caiola M, Paolozzi L, Ghelardini P. 1998. A method for DNA extraction from the desert cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis and its application to identification of ftsZ. Appl. Environm. Microbiol. 64:4053 4056.
23.Grilli Caiola M, Billi D, Friedmann EI. 1996. Effect of desiccation on envelopes of the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiopsis sp. (Chroococcales). European J. Phycology. 31:97-105.
24.Billi D, Grilli Caiola M. 1996. Effects of nitrogen and phosphorus deprivation on Chroococcidiopsis sp. (Chroococcales). Arch. Hydrobiol., Algological Studies 83: 93-105.
Project Title:
ESA project: Biofilm Organisms Surfing Space (BOSS, P.I. Petra Rettberg)
BOSS_CYANO@Tor Vergata
Microorganisms account for over 99% of all living matter on Earth, and most of the microorganisms are organized into biofilms and microbial mat communities. Microbial mats are among the oldest clear signs of life on Earth. The earliest mats were probably small, single-species biofilms and these might also be the first forms of life to be detected on other planets and moons of our solar system. Bacteria living in a biofilm adherent to a surface usually have significantly different properties from free-floating bacteria of the same species, as the dense and protected environment of the film allows them to cooperate and interact in various ways. One benefit of this environment is increased resistance to different chemical and physical
agents, as the dense extracellular matrix and the outer layer of cells protect the interior of the community.
In the proposed experiment BOSS the hypothesis will be tested that biofim-forming microorganisms embedded within self-developed extrapolymeric substances (EPS matrix) are also more resistant to the environmental conditions as they exist in space and on Mars compared to the same bacteria from planctonic cultures. Test parameter will be survival after exposure
to space vacuum and simulated martian atmosphere and pressure alone and in combination with extraterrestrial and mars-like solar UV radiation. The experiment BOSS is suggested to be performed as part of the ROSE2Mars consortium in the EXPOSE facility on the ISS. The microbial samples will prepared on ground, subjected to long-term exposure to space and simulated martian conditions and analyzed post-flight in the lab. Biofilm-forming micoorganisms to be investigated in BOSS will be Deinococcus geothermalis, spores of Bacillus horneckiae, different Chroococcidiopsis strains (BOSS_CYANO), Halococcus morrhuae within a biofilm of Halomonas muralis and natural biofilms within volcanic rocks.
The results of this experiment will contribute to our understanding of life in extreme environments on Earth and on other planets with emphasis on adaption to desiccation and UV radiation. The direct comparison of the survival strategies of different microbial species living in biofilms or as planctonic cells will also give new insights into the adequacy of actual
planetary protection measures and may support the development of new life detection technologies for space application.

Project Title:
ESA project: Biology and Mars-Experiment (BIOMEX, P.I Jean-Pierre de Vera)
BIOMEX is a space exposure experiment on the exposure facility EXPOSE-E / ISS with the option to use simulated space conditions in the ground base facility for reference studies. It is planned to get knowledge about stability and degradation levels of space exposed pigments, secondary metabolites and cell surfaces in contact to a terrestrial and Martian analogue mineral environment. In parallel analysis on viability of the investigated organisms will give relevant data for evaluation of the likelihood of interplanetary transfer of life (theory of Lithopanspermia) and may serve as replicate for so far existing exposure experiments on the ISS but during a different solar activity as it has been tested before.
In this project a mixture of Martian analogue and terrestrial minerals with lichens, archaea and cyanobacteria, snow alga, meristematic black fungi and bryophytes from alpine and polar habitats will be exposed to Space and to Martian simulated conditions using the ESA EXPOSE Facility. This concept is planned to evaluate the degree of degradation of the organisms and their secondary metabolites which might be caused by the investigated space parameters (radiation, vacuum, Mars-CO2-gas). Additionally, expected secondary effects or interactions between life forms and minerals will be tested. This concept could be enlarged in future exposure experiments on the Moon and will serve as pre-tests in low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Data we will get by these results may serve as efficient steps for characterisation of real bio signatures –an essential step for the future search for life in the universe. In parallel the resistance and survival of microorganisms before and after space exposure will be checked and will lead to results which might have relevance to evaluate the likelihood of the theory of lithopanspermia. The proposed analytic methods will be done by modern microscopic and spectroscopic measurements (RAMAN, CLSM, SEM), thermo gravimetric analysis and LIVE/DEAD-tests like germination and growth capacity tests, physiological activity check and fluorescence detection. The analysis will be done before and after flight.