Mines News

Release Date Friday, September 29, 2017

SD Mines BuG ReMeDEE Team Lands $6 Million Grant to Study Microbes of the Methane Cycle in Extreme Environments

Rajesh Sani, Ph.D., (right) asociate professor and Saurabh Dhiman, Ph.D., research scientist in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at SD Mines are two members of the BuG ReMeDEE team.

RAPID CITY, SD (Sept. 29, 2017) – Researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology have been awarded a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the range of microbes that consume methane in deep and extreme environments. The project is named Building Genome-to-Phenome Infrastructure for Regulating Methane in Deep and Extreme Environments (BuG ReMeDEE). This research (pronounced “bug remedy”) can help scientists better understand the methane cycle in natural extreme conditions, such as under Yellowstone National Park and in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). The methane cycle is the generation and consumption of methane by various microbes.  Researchers will also study how some of these microbes can be used to convert methane into useable products and materials.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. This research will help scientists better understand the climatological impact of methane generated under places like Yellowstone and in other geothermic and fossil fuel beds. 

“This BuG ReMeDEE consortium will garner the world’s attention on the significance of analyzing the methane regulation in deep-subsurface and extreme environments,” says Rajesh Sani, Ph.D., associate professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department at SD Mines and the principal investigator of the initiative. 

Researchers will also explore how some of these microbes could be genetically engineered to better convert methane into value-added products or reduce the impact of future methane emissions on the environment. The research could also open doors for new economic development opportunities in industry that can utilize these genetically modified microbes for processing greenhouse gas and converting it to biofuel, biodegradable plastics or electricity. 

BuG ReMeDEE researchers will further study how the genetic makeup of these microbes translates to their characteristics and role in the environment. Building this basic understanding of the genotype-to-phenotype relationship  in these microbes can help form the foundation for future research and breakthroughs.

A diverse team of 21 scientists and engineers including early career faculty, senior faculty, senior personnel and students will participate in this initiative. Sani is leading the team effort in collaboration with Robin Gerlach, Ph.D., at Montana State University and Lee Krumholz, Ph.D., at The University of Oklahoma. Krumholz and his team investigate a set of never-before studied methane consuming microbes. Gerlach and his team will develop biochemical models showing how microbes deep underground in Yellowstone National Park consume methane and create energy. Sani and his team will create the genetically engineered and improved microbes that can consume methane and help convert it into value added products. Research Scientist, Saurabh Dhiman, Ph.D., in the SD Mines Chemical and Biological Engineering Department will lead the metabolic engineering and bioinformatics based approach to help predict the best ways to genetically engineer these microbes for optimal performance. Co-PI Venkata Gadhamshetty, Ph.D., in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at SD Mines will lead the effort to convert greenhouse gas to bioelectricity. Co-PI Kevin Hadley will lead educational, outreach, and professional development activities. The educational and workforce development program along with outreach activities will develop research for undergraduates (REU) type workshops and also encourage high school and middle school students, especially from under-represented Native American minorities to pursue higher studies.

This investment is made through the NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program. The BuG ReMeDEE consortium includes industrial partners LanzaTech (USA) and Bijson Innovations Pvt. Ltd. (India). The collaboration of these company partners can help strengthen the gas-based economy. BuG ReMeDEE can also address the critical regional, national and global issues of methane cycling, global warming, renewable energy, and carbon neutrality. The research could lead to advancements across many scientific fields including microbiology, microbial ecology, bioinformatics, protein engineering and environmental engineering. 

On October 12-13, the BuG ReMeDEE research team will meet at SD Mines to kick-off the project.  The meeting will include professors, along with graduate and undergraduate students who will take part in presentations on various aspects of the research. Participants will also take a tour of the Sanford Lab and parts of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

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About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,778 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate is 96 percent, with an average starting salary of $62,929. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Contact: Charles Michael Ray , 605-394-6082, charles.ray@sdsmt.edu