Investigating the metabolic processes and chemical characteristics of plants and microbes
The Metabolomics and Biomass Characterization Group performs multidisciplinary R&D for the Department of Energy’s relevant applications including the characterization of plant biomass and microbial cultures that are potentially suitable for biofuel production. The group consists of researchers and support personnel who apply expertise in metabolomics, plant physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry, chemical engineering, spectroscopy, and physics. These disciplines are integrated to determine the phenotypes of a range of native and genetically modified biomass crops, including Populus, Eucalyptus, Agave, and switchgrass (Panicum). These metabolomic analyses are additionally coupled with genome-wide association studies to identify gene function and are applied in plant-microbe interactions to determine the basis of symbiotic and pathogenic relationships as well as the nature of signaling between organisms.
The group's role in biomass characterization research includes investigation of the use of microorganisms, microbial consortia, and microbial enzymes in bioenergy research to determine how efficiently cellulolytic and fermentative microbes degrade and process plant biomass into biofuels. The group applies a suite of analytical instrumentation to examine the structure and composition of the biomass being characterized that determine its suitability for cost effective conversion to biofuels. Currently, group members are also applying these analytical methods to research in areas of biomedical, biosecurity, carbon sequestration, and climate change.