Genomes of individual organisms and systems of organisms contain the information and operating capabilities that determine structure and function across multiple scales of biological organization. These complex systems hold the secrets of life. Because we do not yet have a full understanding of how a living system works, and how these organisms interact with and modify their environments, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Genomic Science Program is working to achieve a predictive, system-level understanding of plants, microbes, and biological communities. This program is providing the foundational knowledge underlying biological approaches to producing biofuels, sequestering carbon in terrestrial ecosystems, and cleaning up contaminated environments.
An example of the progress being made with genomic research is the work being done by Sally W. (Penny) Chisholm, a U.S. biological oceanographer and faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). According to MIT, Chisholm’s studies of dominant photosynthetic organisms of the sea have revolutionized our understanding of life in the world’s oceans. Chisholm was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2013 for her outstanding contribution to science.
Chisholm led a team that discovered the ocean phytoplankton Prochlorococcus – the world’s smallest and most abundant photosynthetic organism. She and her team also utilized flow cytometry to discover that these small plankton contribute significantly to marine productivity and account for as much as half of oxygen production in some regions of the sea. Chisholm also developed Prochlorococcus into a model system that can be studied from the genomic level to its role in the global biosphere. .
DOE’s Final Report of the research project “Genomic Structure, Metagenomics, Horizontal Gene Transfer, and Natural Diversity of Prochlorococcus and Vibrio” authored by Sally Chisholm, Martin Polz, and Eric Alm is available in SciTech Connect. This research was sponsored by the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Office of Science.
MIT researchers investigating Prochlorococcus continue to excite the science community. MIT has recently released a news report that MIT researchers, including Chisholm, have just published a paper in the April 25 issue of Science about the remarkable genetic diversity and stability of Prochlorococcus living in the sea. This research was supported by DOE’s Genomics Science Program along with other federal agencies and foundations.
Dr. William N. Watson’s latest white paper In the OSTI Collections: Genomics provides a good overview of genomics and current DOE genome research. Genomics is also the topic of June’s DOE Science Showcase. Over seven thousand genomic research reports, citations, and multimedia records are searchable in DOE’s SciTech Connect. Additional scientific and technical information is available in other databases and resources in the OSTI Catalogue of Collections.
Chisholm image credit: MIT