(Blacksburg, Va., October 1, 1998) -- Most living cells are so traumatized by removal of water that they die within seconds. Virginia Tech scientists, however, are studying a cyanobacterium, Nostoc commune, which has the ability to survive in extremely harsh, dry environments. It not only remains alive when air-dried, but when wetted, it absorbs water, swells, turns green again, and is revitalized.
Malcolm Potts, professor of biochemistry at Virginia Tech, and Richard Helm, associate professor of wood science and forest products working in Fralin Biotechnology Center, have received a $950,000 grant from the U.S. Navy to study functional genomics of extremophile biopolymers. Functional genomics utilizes the DNA sequence of an organism and applies that knowledge to the development and genetic engineering of enzymes and of biomaterials.
Potts and Helm are focusing on Nostoc, which is one of a group of special microorganisms called extremophiles. These microorganisms colonize environments that are extreme in conditions such as the amount of heat or cold, moisture, salinity, alkalinity, acidity, or radiation.
Some of Potts' and Helm's work will be discussed as part of a conference, "Genomics and Bioinformatics," to be held at Virginia Tech's Fralin Biotechnology Center on Oct. 9-10. For more information on the conference visit the Virginia Tech Institute for Genomics web site at: http://vigen.biochem.vt.edu.
"Nostoc has the capacity to survive in a dry state for hundreds, perhaps
thousands, of years," Potts says, "and we're trying to find out the mechanisms
that make this possible at the physiological, structural, and molecular levels."
Desiccation, the drying out of all moisture, is the most acute environmental
stress suffered by living cells. Potts and Helm already know that Nostoc
produces a unique biopolymer that protects the cells from heat, desiccation, a
Contact: Malcolm Potts