Monday, December 27, 2004

UH helps map genes
of sea volcano germ

The resilient microbe could offer
new clues to how humans age

University of Hawaii scientists were part of an international team of scientists who mapped the gene sequence of a newly discovered bacterium that lives in extreme conditions near the Loihi deep-sea volcano off the Big Island.

The bacterium lives 4,200 feet below the ocean surface near the underwater volcano, where it is subject to large and sudden changes in temperature, oxygen and pressure, said Maqsudal Alam, a professor of microbiology at the UH-Manoa College of Natural Sciences, who led the UH team.

"In that environment there is not that much nutrients. They have to have a mechanism to survive," he said.

Learning how it survives under those conditions could lead to the discovery of new drugs, enzymes and antibiotics, and a greater understanding of the aging process in humans, Alam said.

It is also the first time that genome sequencing has been done in Hawaii, he said.

The researchers used the supercomputer at the Maui High Performance Computing Center to map the gene sequence.

In a news release, UH-Manoa Chancellor Peter Englert said the research is "exciting news" and shows that the university's investment with the Maui computing center in genomics and bioinformatics is starting to bear fruit.

"This proves that UH can be a leader in this emerging field," he said.

The researchers, including scientists from Japan, Canada, New Zealand, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Maui High Performance Computing Center, published their findings this month in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

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