Metagenomics Use at a Former Coal Mining Environment to Bio‐prospect for Enzymes with Applications to Sustainable Energy
“Red Lake”, just north of Columbia at the Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area, represents an “extreme” environment. Located on former coal mining area, it possesses an acidic pH and high levels of iron and sulfate. Fresh and weathered biomass leached from remnant coal seams enter into the lake, providing a natural enrichment for lignin and other biomass degrading microorganisms.
Thus, “Red Lake” provides a unique opportunity for us to further develop metagenomic expertise directed towards identifying novel enzymes, specifically for biomass breakdown. The discovery of such enzymes would significantly lower the cost of biomass production. Anticipated results include recovery of extremophilic biofuel enzymes and an enhanced network of research collaborators across Missouri.
Funded in part by a Mizzou Advantage seed grant, Researcher Gary Stacey, professor of plant sciences at MU, and Melanie Mormile, professor of biological sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology are working to isolate the extremophiles and sequence their DNA.
In an interview with Mizzou Magazine, Stacey said that “finding the particular organisms is far easier now than a mere 20 years ago. ‘We used to isolate single bacterium and then a single gene from that bacterium, which limited what we could get from the environment,’ he said. But using new metagenomics technology, scientists can sample, say, Red Lake sediment and extract DNA from all the microorganisms in the mud. ‘After we sequence the DNA, we can identify enzymes. If we find something interesting, we can go back to that DNA and clone it out. This method gives us a much better sense of the diversity of the organisms in that environment.’”