“This enzyme is the key to the whole process of methanogenesis from acetic acid,” Krzycki said. “Without it, this form of methanogenesis wouldn’t happen. Since it is so environmentally important worldwide, the impact of understanding this would be enormous.”
Methanogenesis is the process by which the gas methane is made, and it takes place everywhere across the globe, from swamps to landfills, releasing the gas that ultimately seeps into the atmosphere.
One central player in this process is the microbe called Methanosarcina barkeri, a member of an unusual group of organisms called the Archaea that is similar to both bacterial and animal cells. This organism possesses large amounts of the enzyme so important for making methane.
“We often think only of humans putting carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere but natural biology itself actually provides its own sizeable share,” said Chan. “This enzyme plays an important role in the process that converts acetate into these two gases.”
The research can be traced to work that Krzycki did as a graduate student in the mid-1980s studying the protein known as acetyl-CoA decarbonylase/synthase (ACDS). He was focusing on whether carbon monoxide oxidation was part of the process of methanogenesis from acetate, which had not been suspected before.
In 1995, Chan approached Krzycki about working with this protein as one of the first projects Chan took on after coming to Ohio State. The goal was to use protein crystallography to get a picture of it and figure out how it works.
An important initial step in this kind of research is to “grow” crystals of the protein molecules, and from these crystals, scientists can actually map out the protein’s structure.“We tried for six months when I first arrived at Ohio State but at the end of that period, we couldn’t get any crystals to grow,” Chan said.
Two years later, Chan and a former graduate student, Bing Hao, went back to look at those previous crystallization experiments and discovered that crystals had eventually grown.
“The identification of these crystals allowed us to solve the structure of the protein making up the crystals, although it took 10 more years to do that,” he said. “From the structure, we got a beautiful picture of the protein that we could use to understand how it works. Viewing a structure is somewhat like looking at the schematics of an engine.”
Krzycki said that processes similar to those performed by this protein are currently being used in industry, although in those cases, high temperatures are required.
“From studying this process in these microbes, hopefully scientists can understand how their natural catalysts make this reaction work at lower temperatures,” he said.
Along with Chan, Krzycki and Hao, Weimin Gong, Zhiyi Wei, Donald Ferguson Jr. and Thomas Tallant also worked on the project. The research was supported by grants from both the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy.
Michael Chan | EurekAlert!
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy