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 Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

nachricht Study overturns seminal research about the developing nervous system
21.04.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>