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Tools from the Human Genome Project reveal a versatile microbe

ratory used high-tech sequencing machines to sequence the genome and sophisticated software to piece the genome together. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, led by Frank Larimer, Ph.D., then performed computational analysis of the entire genome, identifying 4,836 potential genes and assigning likely functions to those genes.

Once this computational effort was completed, every gene had to be "checked by hand" to confirm the computational assignments. To accomplish this task, Harwood assembled a group including scientists from her UI lab who study nitrogen fixing genes, OSU scientists who work on carbon dioxide fixation, and scientists from the University of British Columbia who study photosynthesis.

"We divided up the genes based on specialization area, and each person had to check about 800 genes," Harwood said.

Most living organisms are capable of using only one of four metabolic modes to live. Humans, for example, obtain carbon and produce energy by consuming organic material, while green plants obtain carbon from carbon dioxide and produce energy from light. In contrast, R. palustris has the genetic capability to use all four metabolic modes depending on the conditions of its immediate environment.

"Once we saw the sequence, we realized what tremendous metabolic versatility this bacterium has," Harwood said.

Further examination of the genome sequence revealed even greater metabolic versatility and suggested expanded utility for this organism in biotechnology.

The researchers found that even within given metabolic modes, this bacterium has options. For example, most bacteria have one light-harvesting protein that is arrayed like an antenna on the cell surface. The genome sequence suggests that R. palustris actually has five different kinds of light harvesting protein and that it mixes and matches them to get the maximum energy from the available light.
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Contact: Jennifer Brown
jennifer-l-brown@uiowa.edu
319-335-9917
University of Iowa
14-Dec-2003


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