Campus News

UGA professor honored for research of exceptional merit and originality

Athens, Ga.- Michael W. W. Adams, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Georgia, was honored by the Society of Industrial Microbiologists at its annual meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 5.

Adams, a Georgia Power Professor of Biotechnology and a Distinguished Research Professor in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, was presented with the Charles Thom Award, which recognizes “research of exceptional merit and originality.”

Adams studies proteins and enzymes of hyperthermophiles, microorganisms that thrive at boiling hot temperatures. Discovered in 1980s at the rims of deep undersea volcanoes and vents, hyperthermophiles were completely “new” organisms, though scientists now suspect they may be the closest living relatives to original life forms on Earth.

Over the past 30 years, Adams’ lab has made remarkable discoveries about how these new-found microbes withstand the high heat and pressures of life miles underwater, including how their enzymes carry out essential chemical reactions. Enzymes are proteins that carry out important metabolic functions in all life forms.

Adams’ main focus has been the discovery and characterization of novel, metal-containing enzymes involved in producing hydrogen gas from complex biopolymers like carbohydrates and peptides. He was the first to characterize hydrogen production and the oxidative stress response in Pyrococcus furiosus, a microorganism that grows optimally at the boiling point (212 degrees Fahrenheit) and without oxygen. He was also first to demonstrate a synthetic pathway to convert sugars and cellulose to hydrogen gas. He also discovered a new type of respiratory system that evolves hydrogen gas.

“Mike Adams has consistently advanced our understanding of microbial life,” said Bob Scott, UGA Distinguished Research Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and associate vice president for research. “His lab has made numerous seminal contributions in this field, which in turn, advanced many other disciplines. What’s more, he still has important contributions to make.”

More recently, Adams has studied another anaerobic bacterium, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, which holds promise as a catalyst for biofuel production. This organism grows at temperatures near 200 degrees Fahrenheit and has the ability to break down plant biomass without chemical pre-treatment.

In July, Adams latest accomplishment-a new, fast method for identifying the metals utilized by and the metalloproteins contained within an organism, was published in the journal Nature. Adams’ team discovered that microbes take up from their environments many more metals than previously thought and that the diversity of metalloproteins had been greatly underestimated.This research will provide insights into new metal-driven processes involved, for example, in how organisms get energy for growth and how some biofuels can be produced.

“Mike Adams is at the cutting edge of hyperthermophile research,” said Alan Darvill, director of UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. “His productivity and the quality of his research add considerably to our knowledge of microbiology and biochemistry-and to the reputation of the University of Georgia.”