Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A giant puzzle with billions of pieces

21.12.2012
Bielefeld’s Center for Biotechnology and the Joint Genome Institute, USA, decipher genetic information of microbes in biogas plants

Day after day, legions of microorganisms work to produce energy from waste in biogas plants. Researchers from Bielefeld University’s Center for Biotechnology (CeBiTec) are taking a close look to find out which microbes do the best job. They are analysing the entire ge-netic information of the microbial communities in selected biogas plants up and down Germany.


Stained, they fluoresce under the microscope: a wide variety of microbes can be seen in a sample taken from a biogas plant. Researchers at Bielefeld University want to find out which ones do their job best.
Karsten Niehaus

From the beginning of 2013, the Californian Joint Genome Institute will undertake the sequencing required. The biocomputational analysis will be performed at CeBiTec. Not an easy task, since the data will be supplied in billions of fragments stemming in turn from hundreds of organisms. Piecing together this huge jigsaw puzzle will be painstaking work.

In Germany, there are more than 7,000 biogas plants which can supply over six million households with power. The plants are filled mostly with plant biomass like maize silage but also with agricultural waste materials like liquid manure and chicken manure. One of the key research questions is how the production of biogas can be optimised. For this reason, Bielefeld scientists Dr Alexander Sczyrba, Dr Andreas Schlüter, Dr Alexander Goesmann, Professor Dr Jens Stoye und Professor Dr Alfred Pühler want to know what microbes are responsible for the decomposition of biomass - and which of them do it best. “We are interested in discovering the microbiology that is really behind the processes going on in a biogas plant; what microor-ganisms play which role at which stage,” explains Andreas Schlüter, whose research at CeBiTec is in the field of biogas production.

First genome deciphered
The researchers’ work has already borne its first fruit. “At CeBiTec, we have managed to deci-pher the complete genome sequence of Methanoculleus bourgensis, a methane producer,” reports Professor Pühler. By doing so, Bielefeld has sequenced the first genome for a methane-producing archaeon from a biogas plant – a single-celled primordial bacterium which plays an important role in certain biogas plants. Now, the researchers want to go even further.
Putting the puzzle together
The project is part of the Community Sequencing Program, a public sequencing programme financed at the Joint Genome Institute by the US Department of Energy. While previous biogas studies have concentrated primarily on certain marker genes, now the entire genetic informa-tion of the microorganisms is to be studied. The American institute will produce more than one terabyte of sequence data for this, which is equivalent in volume to approximately 300 human genomes. This data will be supplied in a countless number of fragments, however, since even the most modern technology is not capable of reading all at once the millions of bases of which a microbial DNA molecule consists. Instead, the sequencing technologies supply vast quantities of overlapping sections of about 150 bases. The DNA sequences will then be returned to Bielefeld in billions of fragments, which is where Alexander Sczyrba’s Computa-tional Metagenomics team comes into play. They develop bioinformatic procedures for the reconstruction of genome sequences. Their task is to compare the data, recognise the overlaps and use them to reassemble the base sequence. “We are trying to complete a puzzle made up of billions of pieces, which also includes hundreds of different puzzles all mixed up,” explains Sczyrba.
Single-cell genomics promises new insights
Quite incidentally, the Bielefeld researchers will be breaking new ground in genomics. An estimated 99 per cent of all microorganisms cannot be cultivated in the laboratory. A brand new technology, single-cell genomics, is to provide insights here by determining the genome sequence from single microbial cells. Knowledge of the identity and functions of hitherto completely unknown microorganisms is expected to be gained. During the joint project, the Joint Genome Institute will sequence approximately 100 single-cell genomes.

The researchers have scheduled roughly two years for their project, in which also Bielefeld doctoral students of the Graduate Cluster in Industrial Biotechnology (CLIB) are involved. At the end, they hope to have discovered the optimal microbial community for biogas plants - and thus be in a position to make this process of generating energy even more efficient.

Background
Biogas plants produce methane through the fermentation of plant biomass, which can be used to generate power and heat. The decomposition of plant biomass and the production of biogas in agricultural biogas plants are brought about by microbes. This process, which is similar to what goes on in the digestive tract of cattle, has a neutral carbon dioxide balance and does not therefore contribute to global warming. Unlike other renewable energies, for example weather-dependent power sources like wind and solar, methane can be produced constantly and stored. This allows it to be converted into power or heat as required.
Contact:
Dr Alexander Sczyrba, Universität Bielefeld
CeBiTec / Faculty of Technology - Computational Metagenomics
Telephone: +49 521 106-2910
Email: asczyrba@cebitec.uni-bielefeld.de
Dr Andreas Schlüter, Bielefeld University
CeBiTec - Genome Research of Industrial Microorganisms
Telephone: +49 521 106-8757
Email: aschluet@cebitec.uni-bielefeld.de

Ingo Lohuis | idw
Further information:
http://www.uni-bielefeld.de
http://www.cebitec.uni-bielefeld.de/grim/index.php/research/metagenomes

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel 'repair system' discovered in algae may yield new tools for biotechnology
29.07.2016 | Boyce Thompson Institute

nachricht Molecular troublemakers instead of antibiotics?
29.07.2016 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Self-assembling nano inks form conductive and transparent grids during imprint

Transparent electronics devices are present in today’s thin film displays, solar cells, and touchscreens. The future will bring flexible versions of such devices. Their production requires printable materials that are transparent and remain highly conductive even when deformed. Researchers at INM – Leibniz Institute for New Materials have combined a new self-assembling nano ink with an imprint process to create flexible conductive grids with a resolution below one micrometer.

To print the grids, an ink of gold nanowires is applied to a substrate. A structured stamp is pressed on the substrate and forces the ink into a pattern. “The...

Im Focus: The Glowing Brain

A new Fraunhofer MEVIS method conveys medical interrelationships quickly and intuitively with innovative visualization technology

On the monitor, a brain spins slowly and can be examined from every angle. Suddenly, some sections start glowing, first on the side and then the entire back of...

Im Focus: Newly discovered material property may lead to high temp superconductivity

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory have discovered an unusual property of purple bronze that may point to new ways to achieve high temperature superconductivity.

While studying purple bronze, a molybdenum oxide, researchers discovered an unconventional charge density wave on its surface.

Im Focus: Mapping electromagnetic waveforms

Munich Physicists have developed a novel electron microscope that can visualize electromagnetic fields oscillating at frequencies of billions of cycles per second.

Temporally varying electromagnetic fields are the driving force behind the whole of electronics. Their polarities can change at mind-bogglingly fast rates, and...

Im Focus: Continental tug-of-war - until the rope snaps

Breakup of continents with two speed: Continents initially stretch very slowly along the future splitting zone, but then move apart very quickly before the onset of rupture. The final speed can be up to 20 times faster than in the first, slow extension phase.phases

Present-day continents were shaped hundreds of millions of years ago as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. Derived from Pangaea’s main fragments Gondwana...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Clash of Realities 2016: 7th Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games

29.07.2016 | Event News

GROWING IN CITIES - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Urban Gardening

15.07.2016 | Event News

SIGGRAPH2016 Computer Graphics Interactive Techniques, 24-28 July, Anaheim, California

15.07.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Vortex laser offers hope for Moore's Law

29.07.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Novel 'repair system' discovered in algae may yield new tools for biotechnology

29.07.2016 | Life Sciences

Clash of Realities 2016: 7th Conference on the Art, Technology and Theory of Digital Games

29.07.2016 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>