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UI scientists' small discovery has big "green" potential—and it's named for Iowa

  Jack Rosazza and Andrew Lamm
 
Jack Rosazza and Andrew Lamm have identified and named a bacterial species that could be used in greener, cleaner ways of producing renewable fuels and biorenewable chemicals. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.
   

The Internet is awash in suggestions of small ways to go green. You really want to talk small, though? Call Andrew Lamm and Jack Rosazza. The University of Iowa scientists are going green on a cellular level.

Rosazza, professor emeritus of medicinal and natural products chemistry, and Lamm, visiting assistant professor of chemistry and research scholar, have identified and named a bacterial species that could be used in greener, cleaner ways of producing renewable fuels and biorenewable chemicals.

The bacterium, Nocardia iowensis, is so named to reflect its Iowa roots. (Nocardia is the name of the bacterium’s genus, a group of related species; iowensis is its species’ name.) It was first discovered in a vial of garden soil collected in Osceola, and much work on the organism was done here at The University of Iowa.

N. iowensis contains enzymes that can be used as biocatalysts to induce chemical reactions that are difficult, expensive, or dangerous to produce in other ways. Plus, any byproducts are nontoxic and easily recycled.

Enzymes from the bacterium can, for example, be used in the creation of imitation vanilla extract. Other possible applications include using the enzymes to convert carboxylic acids into renewable fuels or readily available fatty acids into fatty alcohols, which are used in foods, cosmetics, and lubricants.

Nocardia iowensis 10,000x  
Here's a closer look (10,000x magnification) at Nocardia iowensis.
 
   

N. iowensis also produces a unique compound called noformycin, which has antiviral properties and inhibits mammalian nitric oxide synthase (NOS) systems. (NOS is an enzyme that contributes to neuron transmission, the immune system and blood vessel dilation.)

Another bonus: Unlike, say, oil, the bacterium is a renewable resource.

“You can cultivate it anytime you want. We keep it in the deep freeze, and at anytime can resurrect it and grow more,” Rosazza says.

A research article that officially names the organism and outlines its properties will be published in an upcoming edition of the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

Rosazza and Lamm expect to see more applications for N. iowensis discovered as scientists continue to experiment with the organism.

by Anne Kapler

Office of University Relations. Copyright The University of Iowa 2006. All rights reserved.