DOE Mission Relevance
The Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI) is managed by the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research (OBER) to produce high-throughput DNA sequencing and analysis in support of its missions in alternative energy, global carbon cycling, and biogeochemistry. These areas mirror DOE and national priorities to develop abundant sources of clean energy, to control greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere (especially carbon dioxide, a key factor in global climate change), and to clean up contaminated sites for which DOE has ownership or stewardship responsibilities. Projects with direct relevance in these areas will have the best chance for selection. Projects focused on organisms for comparative purposes also are welcomed, but the applicant should clearly outline how sequencing of the proposed organism(s) will further a DOE mission.
The United States is one of the world’s largest consumers of petroleum and most of this energy is used for transportation and industry. This drives the DOE’s focus on developing clean, sustainable alternative fuel sources. The search is on for fuels derived from cellulosic biomass — these fuels will offer energy on par with gasoline while fitting into our existing infrastructure. Sequencing projects at the DOE JGI that contribute to meeting this goal focus on one of three categories: developing plants that can be used as feedstocks for biofuel production, characterizing enzymes from fungi and microbes to break down the lignin and cellulose in plant walls, and identifying organisms that can ferment sugars into biofuels.
The global carbon cycle regulates the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the Earth’s climate. The carbon cycle is heavily dependent on the microbes that process and fix atmospheric carbon, promoting plant growth and degrading organic material. As microbes constitute the largest component of the Earth’s biodiversity, understanding how they metabolize carbon, and how environmental changes affect these processes, is crucial. The DOE JGI is sequencing large numbers of microbes and microbial communities that contribute to carbon cycling. With this information, researchers can develop better predictive models that could provide more effective contributions toward reducing the effects of increasing carbon dioxide emissions on the global climate.
The carbon cycle is not the only process that regulates the natural environment, and the field of biogeochemistry explores the full spectrum of biological, physical, geological, and chemical processes and reactions involved. Microbes and microbial communities that can degrade or otherwise transform environmental contaminants such as toxic chemicals or heavy metals are another area of focus for the DOE JGI.