One of the DOE JGI’s 2011 Community Sequencing Program projects involves studying biological soil crusts to understand their role in the global carbon cycle. Found in arid lands which make up nearly half of the planet’s total land mass, communities of lichens, mosses and cyanobacteria use soil particles to form biocrusts less than half an inch in depth.
Biological soil crusts are specialized communities of cyanobacteria, mosses, and lichens.
(Image courtesy of USGS Canyonlands Research Station/soilcrust.org)
In the September issue of the Journal of Bacteriology, several DOE JGI researchers including Patrick Chain and Cheryl Kuske at Los Alamos National Laboratory, briefly described the 6.7-million base high-quality draft genome of a biocrust microbe isolated from a site in Utah.
They identified genes in the DNA sequence that suggest the microbe behaves like a cyanobacterium when it comes to breaking down certain carbon compounds and sugars. Since the microbes are exposed to extremes in conditions such as temperatures and salinity, they could prove useful in a number of industrial applications.
Additionally. the few millimeters of surface soil that make up the biocrusts are key to stabilizing soils, plant growth and other plant/microbe/soil interactions. Understanding how the microbial communities within these biocrusts interact can therefore crucial to researchers studying the carbon cycle and energy crop feedstock breeders.
“The genome of M. vaginatus FGP-2 constitutes an invaluable tool to understand the unique adaptations that enable microbial colonization of arid environments as well as the potential for generation of alternative biofuels,” the team wrote.