Microbial interactions with methane clathrate: Implications for habitability of icy moons
PI: Jennifer Glass
Co-Is: Sheng Dai, Raquel Lieberman, Loren Williams
Postdocs/students: Abigail Johnson, Dustin Huard, Manlin Xu
Methane clathrates are likely widespread in our solar system, including on icy moons and the Martian subsurface, yet their habitability remains virtually unstudied. The proposed research will investigate interactions between microbial proteins and methane clathrates. Specifically, the proposed work will test the hypothesis that microbes living in methane clathrates encode proteins optimized for clathrate binding, and that these “clathrate binding proteins” (CBPs) alter the structure, thermodynamics and kinetics of methane clathrates. Our results will contribute to understanding biosignatures of microbial colonization of methane clathrates on Earth and potentially elsewhere in our solar system. The proposed research will: (i) heterologously express, purify, assay, and biophysically characterize candidate CBPs; (ii) quantify the effects of CBPs on methane clathrate thermodynamics and kinetics of formation and decomposition in laboratory experiments with pressurized vessels; (iii) solve crystal structures of select CBPs and characterize static interactions with water molecules; (iv) use high-throughput homology modeling, molecular dynamics, and other computations to characterize structures and dynamics of CBPs; (v) create a public database of CBPs.