CRISPR Guided Insights into the Physiology and Evolution of Methane Metabolizing Archaea
Archaea were shown to be a completely distinct domain of life on Earth over forty years ago. However, the biology of archaeal organisms remains mostly unexplored. Recently, three major discoveries have reinvigorated archaeal research: a) archaea in the large intestine influence host metabolism and exert significant control on human health, b) archaea in the environment contribute substantially to greenhouse gas emissions and c) archaeal ancestors gave rise to the modern-day eukaryotic cell. Perhaps more than ever before, dedicated studies with archaea to characterize their physiology, metabolism, evolution and cell biology are pertinent for pressing issues ranging from climate change to the obesity epidemic. Accordingly, the overarching goal of my lab is to develop the methanogenic archaeon, Methanosarcina acetivorans, as a premier model organism to characterize archaeal physiology and metabolism through genetic analyses. First, we are building high-throughput CRISPR-Cas9 mediated genome engineering tools for M. acetivorans. Simultaneously, we are deploying these tools to study methanogenic archaea at various levels of biological organization from enzymes and pathways to cells and communities. Ultimately, we hope to garner fundamental molecular insights into archaeal biology and also to apply this knowledge towards developing sustainable fuel sources and alleviating the ongoing climate crisis.