About the Methylotrophic Microbial Observatory:
The Microbial Observatory
in Lake Washington has been initially funded in 2002, and subsequently renewed
in 2006. The goals of the original project have been uncovering the diversity
of C1-metabolizing populations in Lake Washington sediment, as a model for
global estimates for C1 utilizers in the environment, and obtaining insights
into the evolution of metabolic pathways enabling methylotrophy, with a
focus on the pathway for formaldehyde oxidation linked to tetrahydromethanopterin
(H4MPT). As part of this project, significant progress has been achieved
in understanding the diversity, the distribution, the evolution and environmental
significance of the H4MPT-linked pathway in bacteria. Comparative genomics
have been employed to build and expand the databases of relevant genes,
and novel tools for environmental detection of the pathway have been developed.
These have been employed to describe the diversity of C1-metabolizing populations
in Lake Washington and in other environments. Phylogenetic analyses of the
newly acquired gene and protein sequences revealed a broad distribution
of the genes for H4MPT-linked C1 transfer reactions within Proteobacteria,
Planctomycetes and other, yet unidentified major phyla. A variety of C1-utilizing
bacteria have been isolated from Lake Washington in pure cultures, and a
number of novel species have been formally described. Community members
actively metabolizing C1 compounds in situ have been detected using rRNA
or functional gene mRNA and also using the stable isotope probing approach
(SIP). From these analyses, extensive knowledge on the presence, diversity
and divergence of C1-utilizing populations in Lake Washington and other
environments has emerged, pointing toward the existence of multi-tired microbial
food webs involved in environmental C1 cycling.
The major goals of the current Microbial Observatory project are the three
interconnected components of a systems approach towards the knowledge on
the microbial populations involved in degradation of C1 compounds in Lake
Washington, as a model for understanding other functional communities. These
include functional (meta)genomics, functional (meta)transcriptomics and
functional proteomics. All these approaches focus on a fraction of the total
population in Lake Washington sediment or on individual microbes involved
in C1 metabolism.
More recently, a new
project has been funded by the NSF, as an offspring of the MO project (Link).
The focus of this project is on understanding the specific methylotrophy
pathways used by Methylotenera species first isolated from Lake Washington
sediment and demonstrated to be some of the major participants in local
cycling of single carbon compounds. Of special interest is the potential
metabolic linkage between denitrification and methanol oxidation.
The project provides a high value outreach to
the Pacific Northwest community. High school and undergraduate students
are involved in research activities and are educated in microbial diversity,
genomics and environmental science.