2010 SBI Summer Workshop
July 21, 2010 -- LaSells Stewart Center, OSU
The Subsurface Biosphere Initiative held its sixth annual workshop
on July 21 at the LaSells Stewart Center. As in years past, the
event was a forum for researchers from different scientific disciplines
to share their studies of microbes living in soils and
groundwater. The researchers described experiments and analyses
carried out at microscopic scales, but their projects had relevance for
two large scale issues – the role of subsurface microbes in global
nutrient cycling and their potential uses for engineering applications
such as water treatment.
Talks in the first category focused on soil microbes and the work
they do to degrade organic matter and process critical nutrients.
Steve Perakis, a research scientist
with the USGS in Corvallis, spoke about nitrogen in soils of the Oregon
Coast Range. Dr. Perakis explained that Coast Range soils are some of
the most nitrogen rich soils on the planet and he described modeling
studies aimed at understanding how forest succession, fire and other
forest processes create the nitrogen abundance observed.
Keiluweit, a graduate student in soil science, spoke about processes
taking place at the minute scale of individual soil particles. He
is using cutting edge imaging and chemical analysis techniques to
visualize how the distribution of nitrogen and carbon change across the
interface between mineral and organic particles. He hopes that
these images and related chemical data will help explain how microbes
process these nutrients.
Sayavedra-Soto, research faculty in Botany and Plant Pathology, gave an
overview of OSU research on Archaea, a group of microscopic organisms
first recognized as a separate domain of life in the 1970’s. The
organisms are so small and difficult to culture that little is known
about their physiology and it was only in 2005 that researchers
realized that the tiny organisms play a role in the global nitrogen
Talks in the second category focused on engineering applications.
Kelsey Yee, a student in chemical
engineering, described her dissertation studies of an enzyme that
degrades the wood constituent called lignin and could one day help
convert wood products to biofuels. The enzyme occurs naturally in
a fungi that grows on decaying trees. Kelsey’s research focuses on
artificial production of commercial quantities of the enzyme.
Azizian, research faculty in environmental engineering, spoke about
microbes that can degrade the toxic compound TCE and its daughter
products. His team's goal is to identify microbial cultures,
substrates and chemical conditions that promote the most rapid and
sustained degradation of the highly toxic contaminant.
Liu, assistant professor of biological and ecological engineering,
spoke about her studies of microbial fuel cells. Her goal is to
use microbes to generate electricity and hydrogen. She described
future applications such as a small sewage treatment system powered by
the bacteria found in wastewater itself.
engineering professor Dorthe Wildenschild’s talk focused on biofilms,
webs of cells that can grow in the pore space between sand or soil
grains. Biofilms are of commercial interest because they can clog
filters and affect the rate of bioremediation and even subsurface oil
recovery. Dorthe’s research group is developing cutting edge
imaging techniques to study how biofilms grow.
other environmental engineering students and faculty spoke about other
applications. Nate Fulton described biosand filtration – a low
cost, point of use technology to purify drinking water. Jeff
Nason and Tyler Radniecki spoke about nanoparticles – minute particles
gaining increased use in consumer products, but without significant
study of their environmental effects.
professor Rick Colwell ended the workshop with a discussion of the
storage of carbon dioxide in basalts, a proposed method for removing
the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.
The evening poster session provided a forum for continued
discussions. One attendee commented, “the best aspect of the
workshop is the juxtaposition of biologists with their insight into
life history and physiological processes, and engineers with their
focus on application. It makes for an engaging exchange of ideas.”