Biofeedstocks from extremophilic microorganisms
This MBIE-funded project entitled “Flipping the paradigm: feeding methane to cows” aims to use a novel consortium of extremophilic microorganisms to convert the carbon (principally carbon dioxide and methane) in waste gas streams from geothermal power-generation plants and oil and gas production into biomass for animal feedstock. Methane and carbon dioxide are generally produced at concentrations too dilute for traditional economic utility, and therefore commonly remain stranded or are released into the atmosphere via flaring or venting.
Overall, this project aims to develop a biotechnology platform to capture and convert a substantial proportion of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas carbon from industrial waste gas streams in parallel to value-adding to what is considered waste gas effluent. The MBIE project is a collaboration between the SBS and CAPE at the University of Canterbury’s School and the Crown Research Institutes GNS Science and Scion.
There is a doctoral position available in this research project.
From geothermal hotsprings to microbial gene pools: Explaining intra-species genomic variations in bacteria
This Marsden-funded project lead by Dr Charlie Lee (University of Waikato) asks whether natural bacterial populations exhibit intra-species genomic variations (where natural selection acts on individual organisms exhibiting traits) or whether gene-specific selective sweeps of advantageous mutations occur within bacterial populations. This project postulates that ecological populations (a single population of a species within an ecosystem) are defined by gene-flow boundaries, and genomic variations manifest as gene frequencies that respond to selective pressure.
In this project, we will cultivate and sequence the genomes of individual strains of the extremely thermophilic bacterial phylum Aquificae to investigate the genetic variations in a bacterial community populations to understand the biogeographical and dispersal patterns within population, the mechanisms maintaining ecological populations, and whether ecological populations respond to changes in environmental conditions.
The biogeography of geothermal ecosystems: How similar are the microbial populations of Yellowstone National Park and New Zealand's Taupō Volcanic Zone?
The research I am undertaking asks whether microorganisms can be endemic to individual landmasses, what influence physical and chemical parameters play on the taxa that inhabit different geographical locations, and whether these ecosystem parameters influence microbial community function? Geothermal environments are ideal ecosystems to test these questions. The environmental conditions are generally stable, are of low complexity, and can be considered ecological islands due to physical and chemical uniqueness (compared to surrounding areas) and geographical separation. In addition, geothermal microbial populations are important in this respect as they are phylogenetically unique and are generally of low diversity compared to populations in less extreme environments.
This work was started in 2016 when I was awarded a Fulbright Scholar (NZ) award to spend five months at Montana State University with Eric Boyd and his laboratory. Eric works extensively in Yellowstone National Park (YNP), USA and hosted me as part of this research (see blog).
1000 Springs Project
The 1000 Springs Project is a recently completed research programme undertaken by GNS and the University of Waikato develop a microbial bioinventory of New Zealand’s globally iconic, but under-valued geothermal ecosystems. The bioinventory, which is publicly-available via an interactive website, consists of microbial diversity measurements (bacteria and archaeal via next-generation sequencing), and parallel physicochemical analyses. The initial stage of this project has now been completed and is unprecedented in its size with 1,013 hot springs from 17 geothermal systems comprehensively analysed.
Jean Power is currently undertaking her PhD research as part of this project
The bacterial microbiome of the extremophilic fungi Pisolithus tinctorius
This project investigates why a extremophilic basidiomycete fungal species (Pisolithus tinctorius) found throughout geothermal areas in New Zealand and the US, hosts intra-tissue (endosymbiotic) bacterial communities populated with new candidate phyla and novel deeply-branching lineages. The role in which these endosymbiotic bacterial community play with respect to the fungal host is not known although we hypothesise that this relationship is mutualistic, permitting both cohorts to survive in highly challenging and nutrient-poor geothermal soils.
The current understanding of endosymbiotic microbiomes (microbial communities operating within host tissues) asserts that they are limited to microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists) interacting with their larger eukaryotic hosts (e.g. plants, animals, insects). Contrary to this, there are limited reports of endosymbiotic prokaryote-fungi interactions. Preliminary research [unpublished] on Pisolithus fungi growing in the acidic geothermal soils of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and in New Zealand’s Taupō Volcanic Zone (TVZ) shows that the fruiting-bodies contain a highly unusual bacterial community with unknown function including at least three novel, deeply-diverging microbial; lineages that likely represent new candidate phyla or classes.
There is a doctoral position available in this research project
Te Nohonga Kaitiaki
This Genomics Aotearoa project aims to create guidelines for genomic research with taonga (treasure) species including pathways for benefit-sharing and commercialisation that explicitly incorporate Vision Mātauranga. These guidelines will aim to deliver wide benefits to both public and private sectors in NZ aiming to carry out work with indigenous species, and offer advice and pathways for benefit-sharing, data guardianship and sovereignty and co-development of research programmes. We aim these guidelines to be an underpinning document for New Zealand Genomics research but also a potential model for indigenous groups internationally.