Relating Diversity and Function of Microbial Communities in the Natural Environment

In this talk, Dr. Costello will apply her specialized background to the changing needs and technologies of modern engineers. This is done at the boundary of engineering and science through both education and research. The lab work presented centers on applying molecular and microbiological technology for studying both engineered and natural systems. The bacteria of interest in this study are methane oxidizing bacteria ( methanotrophs ). They are omnipresent in both aquatic and land environments and vital to the global carbon cycle, climate change, and the remediation of hazardous wastes. Therefore, they are an appropriate structure to study the correlation of science and engineering.

A long-term educational curriculum was created by the PI in coordination with the research on methanotrophs. This new curriculum included the redesign of core classes in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Syracuse University . The objective of the new curriculum was to instruct engineering students on the fundamentals of modern biology through the incorporation of biology into the framework of the engineering topics. Multi-disciplinary relations between engineering and science departments, via both teaching and research, were encouraged as a compliment to the new curriculum. A combination of both assessment tools and an advisory board would be used the measure the success of these activities. The research area of the project involved having students from different disciplinaries research the methanotrophs and recording their population changes in response to soil acidification.

The hypothesis is:
natural acidic deposition (acid rain) exerts selective pressure on methanotrophic diversity and is a significant factor in controlling changes in the methane oxidation characteristics of natural populations of these bacteria. (Costello, 2003)

The hypothesis will be tested through both molecular biology and environmental engineering tools, as well as through answering several questions. The answers to these questions will allow for the study of in situ acidophilic methanotrophs and their metabolic activities. After future studies a model can be created to predict the effects of natural acidic deposition on methanotrophs, climate change, and the global carbon cycle.

Summary prepared by Rob Best