Applications of Extreme Microbes to Energy Problems
Our involvement in this collaborative project springs from my work as a graduate student at UC Irvine on metallo-proteins within the soil bacterium Azotobacter vinelandii. There we worked to transfer the nitrogen fixing capacity of these microbes into plants to develop self-fertilizing crops for growth in poor soils. These efforts are ongoing in many laboratories, however the complexity of these systems has thus far precluded success in the central goal of developing plants that can fix nitrogen.
Our current work on extremophiles aims to exploit the biochemistry of these fascinating microbes to develop processes to assist in meeting energy needs in carbon-neutral or carbon-negative ways. While there are many possible applications for this work, we are currently funded to do ‘foundational science’ (i.e. basic research) necessary to rapidly identify and exploit novel biological activities for energy applications. We are establishing model systems and molecular tools to exploit biological activities in line with Department of Energy missions to address energy and climate issues facing the country and world.
A favorite model organism in our laboratory is Sulfolobus solfataricus, which is a single celled microorganism that lives in freshwater volcanic springs. This amazing microbe thrives in dilute sulfuric acid waters (pH=3) at nearly boiling temperatures (80oC). Sulfolobus has evolved very resilient enzymes to be able to live in its hot acid habitat, we are taking apart these microbes and identifying enzymes that will be useful for bioenergy processes. In addition, we are developing technologies to do this kind of 'microbe-dissasembly' with any microbe that has biochemical processes of interest for energy applications. The amazing diversity of life and the biochemical capabilities held within its processes have only begun to be described and exploited. This is an exciting time in microbiology where our technological capabilities have accelerated our ability to explore and apply the capabilities of nearly 4 billion years of evolution.
Our Work In the News:
Our Relevant Publications:
Baran R, Bowen BP, Bouskill NJ, Brodie EL, Yannone SM, Northen TR.
Anal Chem. 2010 Oct 14.
Cvetkovic A, Menon AL, Thorgersen MP, Scott JW, Poole FL 2nd, Jenney FE Jr, Lancaster WA, Praissman JL, Shanmukh S, Vaccaro BJ, Trauger SA, Kalisiak E, Apon JV, Siuzdak G, Yannone SM, Tainer JA, Adams MW.
Nature. 2010 Aug 5;466(7307):779-82. Epub 2010 Jul 18.
Northen TR, Lee JC, Hoang L, Raymond J, Hwang DR, Yannone SM, Wong CH, Siuzdak G.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Mar 11;105(10):3678-83. Epub 2008 Mar 4.
Yannone SM, Burgess BK.
J Biol Chem. 1997 May 30;272(22):14454-8.
Isas JM, Yannone SM, Burgess BK.
J Biol Chem. 1995 Sep 8;270(36):21258-63.