Molecular Insight into Toxicant Degradation by Microbial Communities

Project Details


DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): Microorganisms have a large biochemical potential, with the capability to use natural and anthropogenic compounds as growth and energy sources. They possess unique adaptability to extreme environmental conditions and are found everywhere on the Earth. However, it is well known that the biodiversity of microorganisms remains relatively untapped with more than 99% of all bacteria in the environment uncharacterized. The alkane degrading bacteria are example model systems for studying microbial biodiversity with the added benefit of industrial relevance from both the environmental remediation and industrial biocatalysis standpoints: alkane degrading bacteria are active in the biodegradation of petroleum and their alkane oxidizing enzymes are valuable in performing chiral transformations of pharmaceutical relevance. Unique alkane degrading bacteria have been isolated from the ocean, from the Polar Regions, from soil, and from polluted sites. Many new genera and species have recently been described based on organisms isolated for the ability to degrade alkanes. The Kyrgyz Republic represents a region of the world with varied habitats ranging from high mountain deserts, permanently snow-capped mountains, heavily saline and alkaline soils, petroleum and heavy metal polluted sites left over from the soviet era, agricultural fields, mountain forests and streams, pristine valleys, and a large (100 miles long by 40 wide) mildly saline mountain lake (Lake Issyk-Kyl). These environments have not yet been systematically examined for the diversity of microorganisms that they possess. The present proposal aims to explore the microbial diversity of alkane degrading bacteria in the Kyrgyz Republic with the aim of finding and characterizing bacteria and alkane hydroxylase genes that are unique to the varied habitats in the Kyrgyz Republic. A molecular ecology approach will be taken, using a variety of methodologies to examine DNA directly extracted from the environment and from enrichment cultures. Microbial diversity will be monitored using the 16S rRNA gene as a biomarker and alkane degrading diversity will be examined using diiron and cytochrome P450 alkane monooxygenase genes as the target. The proposal brings together Kyrgyz Republic soil microbiology scientists with faculty at Rutgers University who have extensive experience in the molecular characterization of catabolic pathways. Fuel hydrocarbons such as alkanes are common contaminants in the environment. Exposure to these compounds can affect human health and well being. Knowledge of the microorganisms which are involved in the remediation of these chemicals and their molecular ecology in developing and remote countries like the Kyrgyz Republic plays a major role in determining the environmental fate of these and other toxic compounds. Public awareness among the people of the Kyrgyz Republic of the hazards of pollution will be raised through the interactive activities of this proposed research.
Effective start/end date7/1/074/30/10


  • Fogarty International Center: $29,610.00
  • Fogarty International Center: $59,220.00
  • Fogarty International Center: $29,610.00


  • Molecular Biology
  • Soil Science
  • Microbiology


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