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New funding bolsters “Genomes to Life”


The US Department of Energy has awarded $103 million in grants to researchers developing tools and strategies for addressing energy and environmental problems as part of its "Genomes to Life" program. The ten-year goal of this program is to discover new energy sources, understand the earth's carbon cycle, and design ways to clean up the environment—all with the help of microbes.

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The plan is to use the genomes of organisms that have been sequenced. These include bacteria that clean up uranium in the soil and blue-green algae that pull out atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is linked to global warming.

"'Genomes to Life' addresses the next question: How does a genome program the expression of proteins to do the work of the cell?" says George M. Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Church leads one of five teams that will receive grants from the DOE. His team, which includes researchers from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, and two hospitals, is investigating three species of bacteria: Pseudomonas, Caulobacter and Prochlorococcus.

The researchers will study the protein interactions in the cells of these bacteria. They will also investigate how the organisms interact in their natural environment, including the flow of energy through the microbial food cycle.

Prochlorococcus cells

Sallie W. Chisholm, a biologist at MIT, is studying Prochlorococcus—blue-green algae, which she helped discover almost twenty years ago. The tiny microbes live in the ocean surface and are responsible for half the photosynthesis on earth. They are also known for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Chisholm will investigate the role of Prochlorococcus in the ocean. "The cells are starting to 'tell' us what they're experiencing in the ocean. We can use these cells as reporters to learn more about the ecosystem," Chisholm says. "I'm in awe of this fascinating organism."

To find out more about the program, visit "Genomes to Life" here

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