A thermophile is an organism that thrives in extremely hot temperature conditions. These conditions are found in the Great Basin hot springs, where the organisms have been exposed to unique conditions which guide their lifecycle. High temperature environments often support large and diverse populations of microorganisms, which appear to be hot spots of biological innovation of carbon fixation. Sequencing these microbes that make their home in deadly heat could provide various insights into understanding energy production and carbon cycling.
Converting cellulosic biomass to ethanol is one of the most promising strategies to reduce petroleum consumption in the near future. This can only be achieved by enhancing recovery of fermentable sugars from complex biomass, which requires improved enzymes that retain function under extreme conditions encountered during industrial processes. Sequencing microbes from the hot springs which are able to break down complex biomass despite extreme temperature conditions could lead to insights about these important enzymes.
Another largely untapped source of alternative energy is hydrogen, and the genome sequences of hydrogen-utilizing microbes found in the Great Basin hot spring, which may contain novel enzymes critical to oxidizing this element.
Principal Investigators: Brian Hedlund, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Program: CSP 2010