04 - Improving Acid Resistance in Metallosphaera sedula for Industrial Processes
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
High temperatures, strong acid, and high heavy metal concentrations all represent extreme limits for life that can be found in a variety of both natural and man-made environments including volcanic hot springs, mining environments, and industrial settings. Microorganisms that can thrive under these conditions, such as Metallosphaera sedula, play important roles in biogeochemical cycles including the iron and sulfur cycles and are used in biotechnological applications such as biomining. These organisms have evolutionary importance since acidic and metal-rich environments are similar to those of the volcanic, aqueous conditions of early Earth. Understanding how these organisms cope molecularly with these environmental stresses has evolutionary implications for how life may have evolved in an early Earth environment. Characterizing what allows them to survive in strong acid conditions and identifying mutations that allow them to adapt to conditions beyond their natural threshold could give insight into how organisms survive at this boundary for life. A better understanding of how life adapts to the most extreme environments on Earth also has implications for the possibility of life in extraterrestrial environments.