2012 Annual Science Report
Montana State University Reporting | SEP 2011 – AUG 2012
Ecology of Extreme Environments: Characterization of Energy Flow, Bioenergetics, and Biodiversity in Early Earth Analog Ecosystems
The distribution of organisms and their metabolic functions on Earth is rooted, at least in part, to the numerous adaptive radiations that have resulted in the ability to occupy new ecological niches through evolutionary time. Such responses are recorded in extant organismal geographic distribution patterns (e.g., habitat range), as well as in the genetic record of organisms. The extreme variation in the geochemical composition of present day hydrothermal environments is likely to encompass many of those that were present on early Earth, when key metabolic processes are thought to have evolved. Environments such Yellowstone National Park (YNP), Wyoming harbor >12,000 geothermal features that vary widely in temperature and geochemical composition. Such environments provide a field laboratory for examining the tendency for guilds of organisms to inhabit particular ecological niches and to define the range of geochemical conditions tolerated by that functional guild (i.e., habitat range or zone of habitability). In this aim, we are examining the distribution and diversity of genes that encode for target metalloproteins in YNP environments that harbor geochemical properties that are thought to be similar to those that characterize early Earth. Using a number of newly developed computational approaches, we have been able to deduce the primary environmental parameters that constrain the distribution of a number of functional processes and which underpin their diversity. Such information is central to constraining the parameter space of environment types that are likely to have facilitated the emergence of these metal-based biocatalysts.
PROJECT INVESTIGATORS:Eric Boyd
Project InvestigatorJohn Peters
PROJECT MEMBERS:Trinity Hamilton
RELATED OBJECTIVES:Objective 3.2
Origins and evolution of functional biomolecules
Origins of energy transduction
Origins of cellularity and protobiological systems
Earth's early biosphere.
Production of complex life.
Environment-dependent, molecular evolution in microorganisms
Co-evolution of microbial communities
Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments