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ORNL protein analysis investigates marine worm community
Date:5/9/2012

Techniques used by researchers from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to analyze a simple marine worm and its resident bacteria could accelerate efforts to understand more complex microbial communities such as those found in humans.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a multi-institutional research team analyzed the proteins found in a marine worm known as Olavius algarvensis. The worm lacks a digestive system and relies on microbes that live in its body to process its waste and provide energy. Previous research, however, had not untangled the metabolic details of this mutually beneficial, or symbiotic, relationship.

"This community is like the simplest form of the human gut," said coauthor Nathan VerBerkmoes of ORNL. "It is a model system to understand symbiosis."

While some complex microbial communities such as the human gastrointestinal system contain hundreds of thousands of microbes, the marine worm relies on only four to five bacteria. Understanding the simple network of relationships between the worm and its symbionts, however, still required novel techniques to analyze the functions of a whole system rather than individual parts.

"Very often, you'll have a community that does function x," VerBerkmoes said. "But if you try to isolate any one of those microbes out of the community and get it to do that function, one microbe alone can't do it. Furthermore these microbes cannot be easily isolated and studied by traditional molecular approaches. "

To unravel the interactions of the worm community, an ORNL team led by VerBerkmoes used metaproteomics, a form of analysis that identifies and categorizes the proteins in an organism's cell. Genomics, which yields the DNA sequence of an organism, can predict a cell's behavior, whereas proteomics gives scientists a real-time snapshot of what actually happens in the cell's metabolism.

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Contact: Morgan McCorkle
mccorkleml@ornl.gov
865-574-7308
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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