Chemical and Functional Dynamics in Living Cells

 Synchrotron Infrared Spectromicroscopy integrated with perturbation experiments is used to investigate metabolic and functional changes in prokaryotes, especially those important in the cycling of elements.

Our group uses and develops advanced synchrotron infrared spectroscopic methods to study complex microbial cycling of elements such as bioremediation and plant cell-wall deconstruction and carbon sequestration.

In microbial cycling of elements we aim to define the principle underlying bacteria’s remarkable chemical ability to survive extreme environments, and to use this principle to manage these bacteria for remediate heavy metal polluted sites for converting biomass to fuels effectively. Sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB), for example, are obligate anaerobes and their ability to detoxify radionuclides and metals are regulated to external conditions, such as oxygen levels, and one of the key components of is regularly undergoing adaptation and repair. We plan to understand SRB’s ability at the molecular level by combining high-resolution synchrotron infrared spectromicroscopy with system biology through collaboration with colleagues at the Virtual Institute for Microbial Stress and Survival (VIMSS). We have recently shown, using time difference synchrotron infrared spectromicroscopy, that well-orchestrated chemical events exist in SRB enabling them to transiently survive the most hostile condition − air. We are exploring the implications of these chemical events for bioremediation of radionuclides and metals.

The abundance of cellulose in stover and the diversity of microbial cellulosomes with significant cellulolytic effects yield a rich range of properties for bioenergy production. We aim to explore and understand these properties with a particular current emphasis on cellulose hydrolysis and byproduct toxicity on microbial cycling of carbons under transient and highly heterogeneous conditions via microfluidic synchrotron infrared spectromicroscopy and theoretical modeling.

Synchrotron infrared spectromicroscopy is an emerging technology with many potential ways to enhance its resolution, sharpen the information content, and define microbial reaction pathways. My group continues to develop new infrared spectroscopy methods and the computational tools for their analysis