To better understand the emergence of life, former SFI Omidyar Fellow Rogier Braakman and External Professor Eric Smith are taking a careful look at Aquifex aeolicus.
Being restricted to extreme, boiling hot spring habitats (a consistent feature of Earth’s geology) means the unusual bacterium’s metabolic network has evolved less than those of other species. This makes it a great model system to study the early evolution of metabolism, the researchers say.
The pair is using a technique called phylometabolic analysis, which combines the building of gene-based family trees of relatedness (called phylogenies) with reconstruction of chemical metabolic networks. This lets the researchers “see not just what information is changing, but how specific driving forces are changing the underlying chemical networks encoded by those genes," explains Braakman.