Delaware Public Media

UD researchers look into microbe genes

Nov 12, 2017

University of Delaware researchers are taking a deeper look at microbes and how the environment they are in affects their genetics.

 

They want to know where these single-celled organisms are and what they’re doing.

 

UD College of Earth, Ocean and Environment professor Jennifer Biddle says microbes in our gut and on our skin can prevent disease. They also make the oxygen we breathe and help degrade trash and litter.

 

“I like to tell people — they’re in you, they’re on you and they’ll kill you, but really most of the microbes we have are quite friendly,” Biddle said.

 

Researchers are collecting DNA in everything from fish to rocks to examine microbes.

 

They looked in sediments at the Mariana Trench and saw microbes there needed to have more genes in their genome to be able to get enough energy out of the environment. They've also found microbes in deep sediments like the ocean floor look like microbes on the Earth’s surface, but grow more slowly. 

 

They’re even looking at the how microbes are used in medical products.

 

“Medical products come from microbes,” Biddle said. “One thing we always do is keep a lookout for microbes producing antibiotics that we could use as a drug eventually.”

 

Her lab has been looking at microbes from horseshoe crab eggs that could be used in that way.

 

Biddle says next, the researchers want to further their understanding of the role of genomes and DNA in microbes and how tiny cells called archaea work.

 

Over the summer, the team of researchers — including Biddle, Adam Marsh and Thomas Hanson — received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to dive into microbe research.