Current Research

The research projects in our laboratory concern hyperthermophiles, which are microorganisms that grow near and even above 100°C. The main focus is the archaeon Pyrococcus furiosus (Pf), which grows optimally at the boiling point. The Pf genome contains 2,200 genes and a proteomics effort is in progress involving the large-scale fractionation of native biomass to identify macromolecular assemblies on a genome-wide basis. These include multiprotein complexes that contain metals, RNA and metabolites. A functional genomics effort is also underway in which DNA microarrays representing the complete genome are being used to investigate the response of Pf to various stress conditions. These include low temperature (~ 70°C), limiting amounts of iron and sulfur, and the presence of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species. Novel proteins involved in these responses are being characterized by a variety of biochemical, molecular and spectroscopic techniques. Hyperthermophiles are also of great interest in the bioenergy field as they can metabolize various types of biomass to produce hydrogen gas, a potential biofuel. An additional project currently underway seek to understand the nature of the enzymes that are involved in biomass conversion using the most thermophilic cellulolytic bacterium known, Caldicellulosiruptor besii, as the model system. The research in the laboratory is funded by grants from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.