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Human Genome News, July-September 1996; 8:(1)

Archaic Overachiever Thrives in Hostile Environments

First discovered almost 20 years ago by Carl Woese and Ralph S. Wolfe (both of University of Illinois, Urbana), the Archaea domain (whose name means "ancient" in Greek) is believed to have separated from true bacteria over 3 billion years ago. Archaea once were thought to live only at extreme environmental conditions of temperature and pressure but now are believed to be far more common and to make up a significant part perhaps half of the world's biomass. They are suspected of playing important but still unknown roles in the earth's ecology, including its carbon and nitrogen cycles.

The single-celled, 1738-gene M. jannaschii was isolated from a sample collected in over 8000 feet of water at the base of a deep-sea thermal vent on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It is named for Holger Jannasch of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who collected the sample. Thriving at pressures that would crush a conventional submarine, this heat-loving, methane-producing microbe lives without sunlight, oxygen, or organic carbon.

Instead, it uses carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen expelled from the thermal vent for its life functions. Analysis of the microbe's genome will provide researchers with valuable information for understanding how organisms can make life's building blocks from inorganic sources and under such extreme conditions.

Practical Payoffs

With its unusual characteristics, M. jannaschii has the potential to supply fuel and other ingredients for products from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Commercial interests now have the opportunity to develop such heat-resistant products as detergent additives or stable enzymes for the textile, paper, and chemical industries. Methane (CH4) causes both ozone production and depletion but with a net production of ozone. This mean that more knowledge about bacterial/archaeal methane production could lead to better understanding of global-warming processes.

Some of the following areas may benefit from M. jannaschii applications.

  • Transportation: Develop "biological" vehicles.
  • Energy: Generate large supplies of safe, renewable power.
  • Weather: Understand and control methane's contribution to global warming.
  • Environmental cleanup: Use biological methods to clean up hazardous waste sites.
  • Household use: Manufacture biodegradable detergents and cleaners.

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Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v8n1).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.