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Three Science Professors Awarded $100,000 to Fund Collaborative Study of Enzymes With Students

Mud volcanoes near Salton Sea. Photo by Flickr user slworking2

Mud volcanoes near Salton Sea. Photo by Flickr user slworking2

Pomona College Professor of Chemistry E.J. Crane, Professor of Geology Jade Star Lackey and Professor of Chemistry Matthew Sazinsky were awarded the $100,000 Cottrell College Science Award by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement for a collaborative two-year study with six students to examine the role of enzymes in the life of sulfur-dependent microorganisms. The grant also provides funding for building an in situ electrochemical analyzer, a specialized instrument which will help the team determine which compounds are important in the sulfur cycling in the environments they are studying. Pomona College is matching the grant with $25,000.

The professors and students will use biochemistry, microbiology and geology to look at how sulfur is used by microbes deep beneath the surface of the earth in hydrothermal systems and hot petroleum reservoirs, and how this activity shapes the earth’s environment and changes the earth’s geology. 

During field studies in hot mud volcanoes near the Salton Sea and in the Long Valley Caldera near Mammoth Springs, students will be looking for new enzymes that react with sulfur and figuring out how those enzymes work, characterizing sulfur-utilizing microbes that exist in these hot subterranean environments, and studying the geology of contemporary and ancient hydrothermal sites to look at the changes in the rock record left behind by these microbes.  Many lines of evidence point to the sulfur biochemistry used by these microbes as being the earliest type of life on earth, and these studies may offer understanding about how life developed on earth.

“The grant will provide students with great research opportunities, especially in cross-disciplinary studies, so that they'll be able to see how fields that seem very disparate, such as biochemistry and geology, can work together to understand things far better than one could understand them just from focusing on one area only,” said Professor Crane.

Founded in 1912, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement is a private foundation that provides funding for innovative scientific research and the development of academic scientists to help advance American competitiveness in science and technology.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, is known for the close relationships between students and faculty, providing a range of opportunities for student research and leadership, and meeting the full financial aid need of each accepted student with financial aid packages that do not include loans.