2023-2024 / BIOL0860-1

Soil ecotoxicology and bioremediation


24h Th, 12h Pr

Number of credits

 Master in biology of organisms and ecology (120 ECTS)5 crédits 


Monique Carnol, Marc Hanikenne, Célia Joaquim-Justo


Monique Carnol

Language(s) of instruction

French language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the first semester, review in January


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

Course description

Ecotoxicology studies the effects of chemical substances on individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems. In this course, we will address, in an integrated way, the questions related to pollutants, their effects on soils, as well as the role of microbial processes in the degradation of pollutants (bioremediation) and the role of of plants for the degradation and stabilization of pollutants (phytoremediation/ phytostabilization).


  • General Introduction
  • Sources and fate of pollutants in terrestrial environments
  • Effects of pollutants on organisms and communities living in soils
  • Effects of pollutants on soil quality
  • Overview of standard methods for soil ecotoxicology testing
  • Bioassays for Regulatory Purposes
  • Microcosms, mesocosms, field tests
  • Soil bioremediation
  • Soil as a habitat for microorganisms
  • Principles of microbial degradation of pollutants
  • Soil Bioremediation Case Studies
  • Phytoremediation
  • Importance of Metals in Plant Growth
  • Plant diversity and metal immobilization
  • Phytoremediation
Practicals: effects of cadmium on plant germination, activity and metabolic diversity of soil microorganisms

NOTE: As part of your university education, you can legally dispose of the materials made available to you (pdf Power Points, videos, podcasts, etc.) protected by copyright. These materials are intended only to be used by students as part of their studies at the University of Liège. No other use or distribution is authorized, under penalty of constituting a violation of the law of June 30, 1994 relating to copyright. If the resources were to be freely accessible on the web, the person responsible would be exposed to legal proceedings.

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

At the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • discuss the concept of soil quality in relation to ecosystem services
  • define soil ecotoxicology and defend its use in soil protection
  • describe sources and fates of chemicals in terrestrial environments
  • explain the effects of pollutants on soil organisms and the consequences of these effects on soil characteristics
  • characterize main soil properties and their importance in the fate of soil contaminants
  • explain bioavailability and mobility of pollutants
  • cite and explain main methods of soil ecotoxicology: individual bioassays and methods for the assessment of soil biota in situ
  • explain the role of microorganisms in the degradation of organic pollutants
  • perform quantitative assessment of risks posed by toxic pollutants to terrestrial ecosystems
  • describe the main processes used in soil bioremediation
  • understand the use and criteria for applying microbial activities in the processes of bioremediation
  • apply of course theory and techniques of analyses of case studies for approaching problems in environmental microbiology
  • evaluate of the relevance of a technique using microorganisms in environmental management
  • describe heavy metal accumulation mechanisms in plants
  • describe strategies using plants for phytoremediation purposes
  • develop a critical view on the use of transgenic plants versus natural populations for phytoremediation

Learning objectives related to practicals:

  • acquire analytical technical and expertise skills for characterising and evaluating the effect of pollutants on soils
  • interpret and discuss the results of soil bioassays 
  • develop synthesis, interpretation and writing skills

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Students should be familiar with basic concepts of ecology, soil ecology, chemistry and ecotoxicology.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

Lectures (power point support) are based on the principles of 'active lectures'. Presentations include questions, minute papers, case studies and class discussions. The link between theory and practice for the methods in soil ecotoxicology is established through the practicals/tutorials.  
The integration of lectures and various activities aims at a deep understanding of the topic during the quadrimester. Student's personal investment during lectures and activities will lead to a work reduction during the exam session and also leads to better knowledge retention on the longer term.

Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

Face-to-face course

Additional information:

Most of theoretical courses are lectures illustrated with power point presentations and videos. The topics considered in the theoretical course will be illustrated and expanded in laboratory practicals, case studies prepared by students, data analyses.

Attendance of lectures and practicals (including the production of related reports) is mandatory. Should a student not fulfil these criteria, he/she will be considered "inadmissible" to the exam.

All useful resources for the course are available online via eCampus (power point illustrations, supporting documents, information, discussions,...). Note: downloading the documents is more efficient with a high-speed connexion. Computer rooms are available on campus.

For the phytoremediation chapter, the students will individually prepare a 15-minute presentation on a subject related to metal homeostasis, metal hyperaccumulation or phytoremediation, based on documents provided by the teacher. Two question-and-answer sessions between the students and the teacher will be organized during the scheduled times  to help prepare for the presentation. Students will present their work orally to the class during a lesson and will be asked to answer questions raised by the audience. The assessment will focus on the clarity and relevance of the presentation and on the mastery of the subject presented.

Recommended or required readings

All ressources for the course are available on eCampus. Lecture notes and reading material will be made available during the year. Power point presentations will be available online (pdf). A work document for practicals will be provided to the students and it is strongly advised to read it before the practicals, for a better understanding of the work required and to prepare questions.
  For complementary information, reference books are available from ULiège library and the instructors:  
Duarte A.C., Cachada A., Rocha-Santos T. (2017) Soil Pollution From Monitoring to Remediation (1st Edition), Academic Press, 312 p.

Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

oral exam

Written work / report

Out-of-session test(s)

Other : Prepare an oral presentation

Additional information:

Assessment consists in:

  • an appreciation of students' activities during practicals and tutorials. At the end of the practicals, each student will be asked to provide a written report (25%).
  • a 15-minute presentation on a subject related to metal homeostasis, metal hyperaccumulation or phytoremediation (out of session, 25%)
  • an oral exam (with written preparation) on both the theoretical and practical courses (except phytoremediation, during session, 50%).
REMINDER (see general examination rules): Cheating or plagiarism are severely sanctioned, leading to a score of 0/20 at the exam. Participation at practicals and the timely submission of reports is mandatory (students failing to comply with this rule may be declared inadmissible at the exam). Any delay in the submission of requested work results in a score of 0/20.

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course

Improvements are made to the course each year based on the evolution of knowledge and formal and informal feedback from students.


Office : by appointment only    

Laboratoire d'écologie animale et d'écotoxicologie, Institut de Chimie, Bât. B6c, Allée du 6 août, 15, 4000 Liège, Belgique:

  • Dr Célia Joaquim-Justo : Tél. 04/366.51.40 ; Fax 04/366.51.47 ; E-mail : celia.Joaquim-Justo@uliege.ac.be

Laboratoire d'Ecologie Végétale et Microbienne, Bât. B22, Chemin de la Vallée, 4, 4000 Liège, Belgique (3ème étage):

  • Prof. Monique Carnol : Tel. 04/3663845 (bureau) ;  E-mail : m.carnol@uliege.ac.be                   

Génomique fonctionnelle et imagerie moléculaire végétale, Bât. B22, chemin de la Vallée 4, 4000 Liège, Belgique (2ème étage, local 2.12):

  •  Prof. Marc Hanikenne : Tel. 04/3663844 (bureau) , E-mail : marc.hanikenne@uliege.be



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