Wall and her team are investigating the basic genetics and metabolism of these bacteria. They are building on discoveries funded by the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute that has sequenced the genomes of about 14 strains and is working on a dozen more.
With a roadmap of the 3,570,858 base pairs of DNA from the bacterium—the focus of her efforts—Wall hopes eventually to determine what limits the growth and activity of the strain in its natural setting and how to avoid those limitations. Making sure that the interactions with heavy metals is sustainable and robust is another goal.
To answer these questions, the team needs to discover the basic ways that sulfate reducers work. “Are the electrons that change toxic metals actually intended for other essential functions in the bacterium? Can we alter the distribution and flow of electrons inside the cell?” Wall asks.
So far, Wall and her colleagues have identified a couple of genes that are critical to the remediation of uranium. A small step but an important milestone in understanding how the microbes work, she says.
Learn more about Judy Wall and Desulfovibrio bacteria from the University of Missouri.