Our research examines the physiology, systematics and ecology of environmentally important microorganisms, but especially the methane-producing archaea and the marine alpha proteobacteria. Of special interest is to understand the complete organism, from the biochemical mechanisms it uses to accomplish its day-to-day tasks of living to its interactions with other organisms and its environment in general. Every organism has its own story.
The methanogens are strictly anaerobic autotrophs which obtain energy from the synthesis of methane gas. They catalyze the terminal step in the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, and about 1.6 % of the CO2 fixed worldwide is released to the atmosphere by the activity of these bacteria. As autotrophs they are also unusual because they are commonly found closely associated with heterotrophic bacteria and protists. Our studies of the methanogens have focused on Methanococcus, which is common in estuarine environments. Currently, we are using genetic methods to elucidate novel biosynthetic pathways and mechanisms of H2 metabolism.
The roseobacters play important roles in the transformation of carbon and sulfur compounds in the ocean and estuarine environments. Currently, we are studying the metabolism of dimethylsulfonium propionate (DMSP), a common osmolyte and major source of atmospheric sulfur, by Siliicibacter pomeroyii. Studies of this model organism provide insights into the mechanisms of DMSP degradation in the natural environments.