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Yellowstone microorganism helped revolutionize DNA copying process



In 1966, Dr. Thomas Brock discovered
a heat-loving microorganism he named
Thermus aquaticus, in Yellowstone’s
Mushroom Pool. Years later, in 1985,
biotechnologists found that because
an enzyme of T. aquaticus called Taq
polymerase could survive extreme heat,
it could be used to make the polymerase
chain reaction, a DNA copying process,
more efficient.
Now PCR can make billions of copies
of DNA in a few hours by amplifying
any type of DNA, and today this
process is used for DNA fingerprinting,
disease diagnostics, and forensic analysis
and bioremediation of toxic wastes.
Bioprospecting, the search for useaful
organic compounds in nature for sources
of genetic or biochemical resources,
is now a multi-million dollar industry.
Much of modern biotechnology is
based on the use of enzyme catalysts
for biochemical reactions, including
genetic engineering, fermentation and
bioproduction of antibiotics. Scientists
now do this work in geothermal
features in New Zealand, Costa Rica,
Iceland, Japan, and Russia’s Kamchatka
Peninsula, as well as thermal vents on
the ocean floor.
Recently, researchers from the Thermal
Biology Institute at MSU-Bozeman
helped discover a new type of lightharvesting
bacterium, Candidatus
Chloracidobacterium thermophilum,
also in Mushroom Pool in the lower
geyser basin.
The 11th international conference on
thermophiles research will be September
11-16 in Big Sky.

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