Rensselaer Researcher Receives Grant To Study Enzymes in Deep Sea Organisms

Catherine Royer to explore how enzymes function under high pressure

July 13, 2023


Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Catherine Royer, Constellation Chair Professor of Bioinformatics and Biocomputation at the Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) and professor of biological sciences, has received a grant of over $400,000 from the National Science Foundation to investigate enzymes from organisms living in deep sea environments.

“Ultimately, I hope to better understand how these enzymes function under the high pressure that is present in the deep sea,” said Royer. “They also thrive in high or low temperatures. Biomolecules from the surface do not have the ability to survive these extreme conditions.”

Understanding the differences between deep sea enzymes and those at the surface could pave the way for the development of new enzymes with biotechnological applications. The deep sea is home to more than 80% of the Earth’s microbes. There are 15 times more viruses and bacteriophages than microbes in the world’s oceans, and they contribute to the deaths of 20% of those microbes on a daily basis. This releases 145 gigatons of carbon each year, which includes massive amounts of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

In this research, Royer will study Dnases, which break up DNA polymers. Many oceanic microbes exhibit extracellular Dnase activity, which shows the enzyme’s significance to oceanic biofilm dynamics and geobiochemical cycling, or the circulation of the essential elements of living matter.

“We have so much to learn from organisms living in the deep sea and other extreme environments,” said Curt Breneman, dean of Rensselaer’s School of Science. “Dr. Royer’s research on how biomolecules function under very high pressure will expand our understanding of fundamental biochemical mechanisms and may also provide new insights into new approaches towards drug development.”

Written By Katie Malatino
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