U of Minnesota receives NSF grant to sequence bacterial genome

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--The University of Minnesota has received a National Science Foundation grant of $699,245 for sequencing the genome of a soil bacterium that breaks down atrazine and other herbicides.

"This isn't just an esoteric science--it has a definite impact on people's lives," said Sadowsky. "It speeds up the discovery of useful attributes that microbes have by orders of magnitude. This is the same type of science that is used to discover new drugs and how plants and animals respond to their environment."

The project will be directed by Michael Sadowsky, a professor in the department of soil, water and climate in the university's College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences; and Lawrence Wackett, a professor in the department of biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics in the College of Biological Sciences (CBS). Both are also professors in the Biotechnology Institute, a joint program of CBS and the university's Institute of Technology. The grant will fund a two-year project to determine the complete genome sequence of Arthrobacter aurescens, a soil bacterium that degrades atrazine and other herbicides. Arthrobacter strains are widespread in soil around the globe and contribute to recycling of organic matter, breaking down environmental pollutants and transforming heavy metals. Part of the project includes collaboration with Patrick Hamilton of the Minnesota Science Museum to create hands-on exhibits showing the use of microbial genomic technologies to enhance the environment. Genome sequencing will be done in collaboration with Karen Nelson of The Institute for Genome Research (TIGR) in Rockville, Md.

Although Arthrobacter is a common soil microbe, its physiology and genetics are not well understood, said Sadowsky. It possesses a great capacity to degrade herbicides and other organic compounds and to transform toxic heavy metals into nontoxic forms. For example, it can transform mercury salts to neutral metal.

Contact: Deane Morrison
University of Minnesota

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