Professors research global warming
Jall Cowasji, The Oklahoma Daily
OU researchers observing and analyzing ecosystem responses to global change received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The OU Institute for Environmental Genomics has partnered with researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Florida and the Georgia Institute of Technology to study microbial changes at two sites, said Jizhong Zhou, Institute for Environmental Genomics director.
“We will use metagenomic technology such as high-throughput sequencing and gene chips to look at how communities change,” said Zhou, microbiology professor.
The researchers will use mathematic tools to simulate and predict changes in the future, focusing on two sites — one in Oklahoma and one in Alaska.
“We have been performing global warming experiments in Oklahoma for 12 years,” said Yiqi Luo, OU ecologist and professor of botany and microbiology.
The researchers simulate global warming by hanging heaters 1.5 meters above the ecosystems, raising the temperature by 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit. “This experiment has found that global warming affects plants in a global community,” Luo said.
Humans release 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide, otherwise known as greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere, which causes global warming. Scientists predict global temperature will increase by 4 degrees Fahrenheit, so projects the Institute for Environmental Genomics are conducting aim at trying to understand how microorganisms regulate the carbon cycle, Luo said.
The first thing Zhou and his lab plan on doing with this $3 million grant is employing the high-throughput sequencing technology to observe microorganism diversity in order to understand the effects of global warming on diversity.
Then, they will set up lab experiments to study how warming affects microorganism functionality. They also will monitor how plants respond to global warming in the field.
Zhou’s lab invented the original GeoChip, an advanced technique used to detect microbial genes. This device enables Zhou and members of his lab to detect which microorganisms are in the ecosystem and what their roles are.
“We will use the information gathered from the sequencing to develop the next generation of the GeoChip to monitor the responses of the community under different conditions,” Zhou said.
“We are pioneers in this field,” Zhou said. “We invented this technology and we are the only lab in the world that has it.”
Zhou and Luo worked together to write the proposal to the Department of Energy a couple of years ago when a competition for carbon cycle research was created.
In addition to their research, the professors focus on training the next generation of scientists to apply for grants.
Kai Xue, one of the post-doctoral students working for the Institute, is learning how to write proposals. His focus, microecology, is just one of the many different backgrounds researchers in this project have.
Zhili He, OU adjunct professor and synthesist for the Institute, is more focused on gene development.
Liyou Wu, another researcher on the project and an adjunct professor in the Department of Botany and Microbiology, coordinates the research efforts across the five labs spread across the nation.
“This project is very important and we are hopefully computing something that will resolve this problem [of global warming on ecosystems] in the future,” Wu said.