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The Reston Microbiology Laboratory (RML) is a research laboratory in the USGS Water Mission Area. RML conducts research in the fields of microbial ecology, geomicrobiology, biogeochemistry, and the hydrologic sciences. Our research aims to understand interactions between microbes and their environment to improve water quality and environmental health.

Research

The Reston Microbiology Laboratory (RML) is a research laboratory in the USGS Water Mission Area. RML conducts research in the fields of microbial ecology, geomicrobiology, biogeochemistry, and the hydrologic sciences. Our research aims to understand interactions between microbes and their environment. This work is important because microbes, the unseen majority of organisms on our planet, drive reactions of global importance, which have critical impacts on water quality, environmental health, and energy production.

We use an interdisciplinary approach in our research, combining traditional microbiology methods with molecular biology and biogeochemistry techniques. We specialize in studying anaerobic microorganisms (those that are intolerant to oxygen), microbial processes, and the genetics of microbial communities and isolates.

Reston Microbiology Laboratory (RML) Science Venn Diagram
Our research incorporates expertise and methods in microbiology, chemistry and hydrogeology. (Public domain.)

Research projects we are currently involved in include:

  • Microbes and Energy
  • Gut Microbiome
  • Carbon Cycling: Acetylene Degradation
  • Bioremediation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Current Projects

Microbes and Energy

RML staff sampling at a disposal Facility
RML scientists collecting water samples on the wastewater disposal facility. (Credit: Kalla Leigh Fleger. Public domain.)

Microbes can impact energy production by 1) reducing risk of contaminants from energy development and 2) enhancing energy production. Spills of materials from oil and gas production, including wastewater and product, have unknown impacts on the environment.  We are working with an interdisciplinary team of USGS, university, and state and federal partners to assess the impacts of unintended releases on water quality and ecosystems. RML investigates how microorganisms lessen risks to the environment and water quality from oil and gas wastes and crude oil spills.

U.S. energy demands have increased focus on novel energy resources including coal bed methane (CBM) and enhanced oil recovery (EOR). We are studying how microbes can be used to enhance CBM production through stimulating in place microbial coal conversion to methane. In addition, we are studying how geologic CO2 sequestration and microbial processes can be used for EOR in depleted petroleum reservoirs.

For more information see these USGS webpages: Fate and Effects of Wastes from Oil and Gas Development, Crude Oil Contamination in the Shallow Subsurface—Bemidji, Minnesota, Geologic CO2 Sequestration, Coalbed Gas

 

Snail Gut Microbiome

RML Snail health and gut microbiome diagram
RML: Snail health and gut microbiome. (Public domain.)

Host-microbiome interactions are a hot topic in health studies, with research showing that microbes can control various aspects of host health from digestion to bioavailability of toxins. Our research is focused on developing a new approach using the gut microbiome of a model species to assess the environmental health effects of contaminants. Our model organism is Lymnaea stagnalis, an aquatic snail species that is ubiquitous and routinely cultured in the laboratory. The snail is known to bioaccumulate contaminants from aqueous and dietary exposure pathways. This work is in collaboration with Dr. Marie-Noele Croteau (USGS).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carbon Cycling: Acetylene Degradation

 

RML Acetylenotrphs graphic
RML Acetylenotrphs graphic. (Public domain.)

Acetylenotrophic microorganisms degrade acetyleneusing it as  their sole carbon and energy source during aerobic or anaerobic growth. Although acetylenotrophs have been detected in variety of environments, little is known about their diversity and the genes needed to cataylze acetylene degradation. It is important to study acetylenotrophsbecause acetylene can inhibit reactions of global importance, including chlorinated solvent degradation, nitrogen cycling, and methanotrophy (methane consumption).

To better understand how acetylenotrophsimpact globally important processes we are investigating their diversity and genetic mechanisms using genomics, metagenomics, and cultivation. This work is in collaboration with Dr. Ronald Oremland (USGS), Dr. Janna Fierst (University of Alabama), and Dr. Thomas Hanson (University of Delaware).

 

Bioremediation  

Bioremediation is the process of treating contaminated environments (e.g., soils, water, sediments, etc.) by stimulating the activity of living organisms to degrade or alter pollutants. Our laboratory studies microbial bioremediation of radionuclide, heavy metal, and chlorinated solvent contamination resulting from Cold War Era activities. Microbial activity can limit the mobility of contaminants by altering the contaminant’s redox state reduce, eliminating the contaminant (degradation), or accumulating hazardous particles.

Our research on bioremediation of uranium and heavy metals focuses on understanding how naturally occurring microorganisms immobilize contaminants via direct biological reduction (e.g., reduction of soluble U(VI) to insoluble U(IV)) or by indirect pathways (e.g., biogenic mineral precipitation). In the direct pathway, microbes respire (breathe) heavy metals and uranium resulting in precipitation or mobilization of the contaminants. Indirect pathways include biological precipitation, where aerobic microbes make Mn or Fe minerals during growth; these biominerals can then accumulate contaminants. We assess the environmental and metabolic requirements that favor reactions that can be used to successfully bioremediate metal and uranium contaminated sites. In this work we use cultivation, genomics, voltammetry, geochemical, and mineralogy techniques.

RML Contaminant Geochemistry acidophilic iron oxidizing bacteria
RML: An overlay plate showing colonies of an acidophilic iron oxidizing bacteria isolated from the Gessen Creek near the former Ronneburg mining site in Eastern Germany. (Public domain.)

RML also studies bioremediation of chlorinated solvents as these contaminants pose a significant risk to drinking water supplies because they are carcinogens and the most common groundwater contaminant. We study microbial community dynamics in chlorinated solvent contaminates sites to understand the ecology of degradation and the environmental factors that control activity. We are also working to develop novel techniques for chlorinated solvent bioremediation.

RML graphic 1
RML bioremediation graphic. (Public domain.)

To better understand bioremediation processes we conduct laboratory and field studies using microbial community analysis, genomics, and cultivation. This work is in collaboration with Dr. Michelle Lorah (USGS), Dr. Kirsten Küsel (Friedrich Schiller University Jena), and Dr. Clara Chan (University of Delaware).