Director - Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
Wisconsin Energy Institute, 1552 University Avenue
The Donohue Lab analyzes how cells generate biomass or biofuels from sunlight or other renewable energy sources. To dissect this fundamentally important problem, we study metabolic pathways and regulatory networks of the photosynthetic bacterium Rhodobacter sphaeroides. We take advantage of the R. sphaeroides genome sequence, microarrays, proteomics and molecular techniques to decipher how the energy in sunlight or renewable nutrients is funneled into cell material or biofuel formation. Our interests include determining how cells respond to singlet oxygen, a toxic byproduct of photosynthesis, the role of alternative sigma factors in this response, and the gene products that repair or prevent damage from this reactive oxygen species. Approaches taken to solve these problems include biochemical analysis of how singlet oxygen damages biomolecules, computational, genetic, and genome-wide analyses of genes or proteins involved in the response to this reactive oxygen species, and physiological analysis to determine the function of these gene products in the response to singlet oxygen. Our long range goals are to identify metabolic and regulatory activities that are critical to bioenergy formation, to obtain a thorough understanding of energy-generating pathways of agricultural, environmental and medical importance, and to use computational models to increase the ability of microbes to utilize sunlight, generate renewable sources of energy, remove greenhouse gases or other toxic compounds, and synthesize compounds that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.