We study the enzymology and molecular biology of anaerobic microbes from the Archaea domain. Anaerobes--microbes living without oxygen--comprise nearly one-fourth of all living protoplasm on earth and are found in a variety of habitats. They are found in animals and plants that are healthy or diseased, such as:
human, animal, and plant infections
the rumen of cattle
the intestines of humans and other monogastric animals
Anaerobes in the environment convert biomass to methane in a process that is critical to the global carbon cycle. The anaerobic decomposition of biomass to methane and carbon dioxide occurs in vast and diverse anaerobic habitats such as:
- deep-sea hydrothermal vents
- marine and freshwater sediments
- rice paddies and other agricultural environments
The process of methanogenesis impacts the environment and human health in other important ways:
- biologically produced methane is a major component of greenhouse gases
- the process is used commercially to dispose of domestic and industrial wastes
- many anaerobes are able to detoxify hazardous pesticides, and
- methane from renewable biomass is a clean-burning alternative energy source.
Our research on ancient enzymes from the Archaea is contributing to an understanding of the origin and evolution of life and directly impacts the emerging field of Astrobiology.
Novel gamma class of carbonic anhydrase from the archaea.