There is significant current interest in hydrogen as a potential energy source for a variety of applications, and there is a concerted effort to explore the use of whole organisms or biomimetic materials to produce hydrogen as a fuel. In addition, although fuel-cell technology is well developed, the projected dependence on platinum may rapidly exceed reserves, reducing the economic practicality. Thus, there is a growing need to examine alternative catalysts for hydrogen oxidation for fuel-cell technology. Toward these ends, a number of recent fundamental discoveries have provided evidence that biohydrogen and biomimetic approaches (technologies derived from nature) justify serious examination.
This project involves sequencing extreme microbial habitats from 20 different sites at Yellowstone National Park (YNP). The YNP geothermal ecosystem contains the most numerous and diverse geothermal features on Earth, yielding an extensive array of unique high-temperature environments that host numerous deeply rooted and under-studied bacteria, archaea, microbial eukaryotes, and viruses. Geothermal habitats in YNP have attracted geoscientists and microbiologists for decades, and numerous sites have been well characterized. The current project aims to integrate genome-enabled tools to address specific biological questions important in diverse geothermal systems and to develop bioinspired technologies from thermophilic metabolic potential at YNP.
In terms of potential to discover new bioenergy-related processes and enzymes, a sampling across this diverse geochemical landscape is clearly warranted. To our knowledge, no one has performed such a systematic metagenomic analysis across different thermal environments in a relatively small area where each site may act to some extent as an island environment. The dataset will be used by numerous principal investigators eager to apply metagenomic data to their own site-specific questions or bioenergy-related projects in a collaborative structure to advance our understanding of biodiversity and metabolic networking of thermophilic communities.
Principal Investigators: William P. Inskeep and Mark J. Young (Thermal Biology Inst., Montana State Univ.)