Progress, and Applications
of the Human Genome Project
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy Human Genome Program
Human Genome News Archive Edition
Human Genome News, July-September 1996; 8:(1)
First discovered almost 20 years ago by Carl Woese and Ralph S. Wolfe (both of University of Illinois, Urbana), the Archaea domain (whose name means "ancient" in Greek) is believed to have separated from true bacteria over 3 billion years ago. Archaea once were thought to live only at extreme environmental conditions of temperature and pressure but now are believed to be far more common and to make up a significant part perhaps half of the world's biomass. They are suspected of playing important but still unknown roles in the earth's ecology, including its carbon and nitrogen cycles.
The single-celled, 1738-gene M. jannaschii was isolated from a sample collected in over 8000 feet of water at the base of a deep-sea thermal vent on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. It is named for Holger Jannasch of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, who collected the sample. Thriving at pressures that would crush a conventional submarine, this heat-loving, methane-producing microbe lives without sunlight, oxygen, or organic carbon.
Instead, it uses carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen expelled from the thermal vent for its life functions. Analysis of the microbe's genome will provide researchers with valuable information for understanding how organisms can make life's building blocks from inorganic sources and under such extreme conditions.
With its unusual characteristics, M. jannaschii has the potential to supply fuel and other ingredients for products from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Commercial interests now have the opportunity to develop such heat-resistant products as detergent additives or stable enzymes for the textile, paper, and chemical industries. Methane (CH4) causes both ozone production and depletion but with a net production of ozone. This mean that more knowledge about bacterial/archaeal methane production could lead to better understanding of global-warming processes.
Some of the following areas may benefit from M. jannaschii applications.
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