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April 28, 2014

Research on life at high temperatures in Yellowstone (Image 2)

Tom Schoenfeld of Lucigen Corporation monitors equipment while collecting viruses in Yellowstone National Park.

Despite their relatively high abundance, viruses have a hundred-fold less DNA than bacteria. To compensate, genetic analysis requires concentrating viruses from hundreds of liters of hot springs water to obtain enough viral genetic material for study. However, this concentration step means only a small volume of water is actually removed. Despite the large volumes sampled, these viral concentrates yields only billionths of a gram of DNA. Since viruses have such small genomes, one microbial cell can be a large contaminant.

Methods to separate the viruses from the cells and make millions of copies of the viral DNA were developed to access this diversity. In collaboration with the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute, 30 million letters of genetic code were determined. Extensive computer analysis allowed Schoenfeld to sift through this data to find the genes likely to encode useful enzymes. Once identified, genes for useful enzymes were transferred to lab bacteria to turn them into mini factories for producing heat-stable enzymes that are studied to understand how best to use them. Often molecular engineering of the molecules is necessary to make them useful. The first of these enzymes is being sold as a tool for DNA detection and analysis.

This research was initiated through NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I and II awards (DMI-0109756, DMI-0215988) to Lucigen (Principle Investigator Thomas Schoenfeld). Ongoing work on the project is currently supported by an additional grant (IIP 08-39404), awarded to Lucigen (Schoenfeld). (Date of Image: 2005-2007) [Image 2 of 6 related images. See Image 3.]

Credit: David Mead, Lucigen Corporation

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