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Grand challenge seeks carbon sequestration, hydrogen production solutions

In just six months of collaboration, a Department of Energy grand challenge led by Washington University in St. Louis has resulted in the sequencing and annotation of a cyanobacterium that could yield clues to how environmental conditions influence key carbon fixation processes at the gene-mRNA-protein levels in an organism.

Two of the most critical environmental and energy science challenges of the twenty-first century are being addressed in a system biology program funded by the W.R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) , a National User facility managed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the Department of Energy (DOE). This program features an elaborate international collaboration involving six university laboratories and ten national laboratory groups. The challenges are carbon sequestration and hydrogen production. The organisms that could provide answers are cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). The leader of the program is Himadri Pakrasi, Ph.D., Washington University professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.

Pakrasi is leading a Grand Challenge Project in membrane biology that is using a systems approach to understand the network of genes and proteins that govern the structure and function of membranes and their components responsible for photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation in two species of unicellular cyanobacteria, specifically Cyanothece and Synechocystis. This is one of two Grand Challenge projects recently funded by EMSL-PNNL. Another project, not involving Washington University, is led by PNNL laboratory fellows and chief scientists John Zachara and Jim Fredrickson, is probing the fundamental question of how subsurface metal-reducing bacteria interact with and transfer electrons to the mineral surfaces on which they live. Pakrasi spoke Feb. 17, 2007, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.


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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314 935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
17-Feb-2006


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