Department of Energy-funded researchers at the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives (IBEA) have sequenced microbes in the Sargasso Sea and have discovered at least 1,800 new species and more than 1.2 million new genes. The results will be published in the journal Science. IBEA researchers discoveries include 782 new rhodopsin-like photoreceptor genes (only a few dozen have been characterized in microorganisms to date).
"What excites the Department and our Office of Science about this project is its range of potential benefits," Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham said. "Scientists have used DOE funds to determine the genetic sequences of all the microorganisms occurring in a natural microbial community, which may lead to the development of new methods for carbon sequestration or alternative energy production. This will offer a direct and early test of one of the central tenets of DOEs Genomics: GTL program – that microbes can be used to develop innovative solutions to address national energy needs."
DOEs Office of Science has awarded $12 million to IBEA since 2001 for microbial genomics research. DOE funds IBEA as part of its Genomics: GTL program that includes over 70 research projects to universities, national laboratories and private companies. Dr. Venters research team at IBEA is addressing three scientific challenges: research on photosynthesis and hydrogen production to determine if the efficiency, and thus the utility, of these natural microbial processes can be greatly improved; strategies to create a synthetic minimal genome that may speed our ability to develop biology-based solutions for some of our most pressing energy and environmental challenges; and environmental genomics research that uses genomics approaches to discover new microbial capabilities that can be used to address DOE energy and environmental needs.
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