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Clean, Green High Performance Biofuels from Carbon Dioxide

Researchers at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered a microbe to produce high-performance diesel fuel from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide rather than from the sugars in cellulosic biomass.

Boldly Illuminating Biology’s “Dark Matter”

In cosmology, dark matter is said to account for the majority of mass in the universe. The biological equivalent is “microbial dark matter,” that pervasive yet practically invisible infrastructure of life on the planet, which can have profound influences on the most significant environmental processes from plant growth and health, to nutrient cycles in terrestrial and marine environments, the global carbon cycle, and possibly even climate processes. By employing next generation DNA sequencing of genomes isolated from single cells, an international collaboration led by the Joint Genome Institute is making great strides in the monumental task of systematically bringing to light and filling in uncharted branches in the bacterial and archaeal tree of life.

Expressly Unfit for the Laboratory

A new Berkeley Lab study challenges the orthodoxy of microbiology, which holds that in response to environmental changes, bacterial genes will boost production of needed proteins and decrease production of those that aren’t. The study found that for bacteria in the laboratory there was little evidence of adaptive genetic response.

Biological Soil Crust Secrets Uncovered

A team of Berkeley Lab researchers has performed molecular level analysis of desert biological soil crusts – living ground cover formed by microbial communities – to reveal how long-dormant cyanobacteria become activated by rainfall then resume dormancy when the precipitation stops.

A Creature From an Alkaline Spring Could Improve Biofuel Processing

As a promising prospect for biofuel production, scientists at Berkeley Lab are studying bacteria that live on decaying vegetation in alkaline springs in an isolated region of the California Coast. Highly alkaline liquids pretreat biofuel feedstocks like switchgrass, breaking down the woody matrix to release sugars microorganisms can feed on. But what if bugs could swim in the alkali, break down the lignin, and ferment the sugars all in one fell swoop?

Revealing the Secrets of Motility in Archaea

The protein structure of the archaellum, the motor that propels many species of Archaea, the third domain of life, has been characterized for the first time by a team from Berkeley Lab and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology. A ring made of six identical proteins derives energy from hydrolyzing adenosine triphosate (ATP) and uses this energy to drive shape changes, both assembling and rotating the archaellum’s whiplike propeller.

Berkeley Lab Researchers Create First of Its Kind Gene Map of Sulfate-reducing Bacterium:

Critical genetic secrets of a bacterium that holds potential for removing toxic and radioactive waste from the environment have been revealed in a study led by Berkeley Lab researchers. The researchers have created a first-of-its-kind gene map of Desulfovibrio vulgaris, which can be used to identify the genes that determine how these bacteria interact with their surrounding environment.

Close Up Look at a Microbial Vaccination Program

Berkeley Lab researchers, using a combination of cryo-electron microscopy and 3-D image reconstruction, determined the structure of Cascade, a protein complex that plays a key role in the microbial immune system by detecting and inactivating the nucleic acid of invading pathogens. Microbial immune systems in the human microbiome play a critical role in preserving the health of their human host.

CSI: Microbial Version without PCR

Berkeley Lab researchers have developed PCR-free techniques for identifying the most active microbial populations in samples based on the PhyloChip, the Lab’s award-winning, high-density DNA microarray. These new techniques will be used in a wide variety of applications including the development of advanced biofuels.

Lessons Learned from the Two Worst Oils Spills in U.S. History

One year after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and two decades after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the scientific lesson is clear – microbes matter! Despite vast differences in the ecosystems and circumstances of these two worst oil spills in U.S. history, oil-degrading microorganisms played a significant role in reducing the overall environmental impact of both spills, a Berkley Lab scientist reports.