Marine Environmental Genomics
The vast oceans that cover the two-thirds of the Earth yield an abundant and, in many instances, untapped source of biodiversity. Understanding all components of this complex and important ecosystem is critical to developing its capabilities. To do this, the renowned University of Delaware College of College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment has begun a Marine Environmental Genomics initiative linked to DBI.
Only a tiny fraction of the ocean’s bacterial species have been cultured and identified and these important organisms have already proven a rich source of new genome-based technologies. Studying them promises to revolutionize our understanding of all living things.
With this in mind, the activities of the Institute’s marine scientists play a valuable and exciting role in Delaware’s biotechnology research.
Chief among these scientists is Dr. Craig Cary, whose research is focused on the use of molecular techniques in the analysis of ocean-living microbial communities. Dr. Cary pays particular interest to extremeophiles — organisms that can survive in environments around the globe once considered inhospitable to life. Dr. Cary and his team became known around the nation for their discovery of the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) a microorganism that’s been called the “World’s Hottest Animal” because of its ability to survive and thrive in places such as the ocean’s thermal vents where temperatures can reach over 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Microbes like the Pompeii worm are of special interest to science and industry because they may contain enzymes capable of operating in hot, corrosive, high-pressure environments. These enzymes could be useful when converting cornstarch to sugar, dislodging oil inside wells and other industrial processes.
Dr. Cary also works on the development of molecular diagnostic tools that can detect and count harmful species of algae in Delaware waters, especially the destructive Pfiesteria that has been devastating to the fish industry all along the mid-Atlantic.
An associate Professor of Marine Biology-Biochemistry and the Director of the Center for Marine Genomics, Dr. Cary spent the past year as visiting professor at the University of Waikato Thermophile Unit in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Also working with extremeophiles at the Institute is Dr. Adam Marsh whose focus is on molecular and biochemical mechanisms that are important to growth and metabolism during early development in larvae from extreme environments such as the polar seas and deep oceans. He also studies protein folding and turnover at very low temperatures in Antarctic marine invertebrates as well as examining protein metabolism at high pressures in deep-sea hydrothermal vent invertebrates.
Dr. Eric Wommack also examines the effects of extreme environments on microbes, but his focus is on viruses in microbial communities. His current work looks at the extent to which viral infections affect the make up and biodiversity of bacterial and phytoplankton host communities. He also examines microbial degradation of chiral (a molecule that is not superimposable on its mirror image) organic pollutant compounds in soils and water and the development of detection methods for free living nitrogen fixing bacteria.