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Thermophiles

Student:
Kevin Kusy

The strategies employed by extremophilic bacteria which enable them to survive and flourish in high temperature environments can serve as indicators of the conditions necessary for microbial life to exist. Chemotaxis is one survival mechanism used by bacteria and many eucaryotic cells to search for local environments favorable for colonization. They accomplish this by sensing chemical concentration gradients and directing their migration toward higher concentrations of nutrients and food sources. Chemotaxis proteins homologous to those found in Escherichia coli have recently been identified in the hyperthermophilic eubacterium Thermotoga maritima, prompting our interest in this study.


The results of our proposed research will provide insight into the evolution of microorganisms exposed to extreme thermal environments and their potential relationship to microbial life on other planets.

We have measured properties such as swimming speed and turning frequency for individual cells using a tracking microscope. Macroscopic coefficients of motility and chemotactic sensitivity for a population of cells will be evaluated in a capillary assay that we will modify to allow for high temperatures and anaerobic conditions. The effect of temperature on the swimming behavior and chemotactic response of Sulpholobus acidocaldarius will be investigated, as will the possibility of a thermotactic response to temperature gradients. The colonization of surfaces is another survival mechanism employed by bacteria. We will test the hypothesis that a chemotactic response to exopolysaccharides which coat the surface is an important step in the recruitment of bacteria to a microbial biofilm.

Our aim is to understand how the extreme high temperature environment has influenced the survival mechanisms associated with the swimming behavior, chemotaxis and biofilm formation of T. maritima. The results of our proposed research will provide insight into the evolution of microorganisms exposed to extreme thermal environments and their potential relationship to microbial life on other planets. Information from this program will complement the structure/function relationships of chemotaxis proteins being investigated at the molecular level by other researchers. Understanding how microorganisms optimize their chemotactic response in extreme environments will be useful for technological advances in developing biosensors, bioremediation efforts and oil recovery operations.

This research project sponsored by the National Science Foundation Life in Extreme Environments Program.

 

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Department of Chemical Engineering
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904