DR. FRANK ROBB - University of Maryland, Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB)
The Research: Biotech Applications Based on Marine Thermophiles
It may seem strange to anyone who has boiled water to make it safe, or even been scalded by the stuff, but there are
organisms known as thermophiles and hyperthermophiles that can survive and even thrive at temperatures up to 100°C (212°F),
which in mere seconds can destroy DNA, "normal" proteins, and, hence, life. Dr. Frank Robb's main interest is learning the
details of how they do it, specifically how these organisms can maintain stable proteins in the face of a thermal
onslaught. His key focus is on the proteins, known as chaperones, that the organisms produce to allow them to fold the
proteins necessary for life.
Robb and his colleagues are working toward various applications including using chaperones to improve high-temperature
industrial or biomedical processes. The team is also exploring methods that would employ chaperones for increasing
the stability of certain vaccines, increasing the chances of getting them to remote parts of the world while still usable.
A final area of research is in tapping the thermophiles' penchant for producing hydrogen as a byproduct in order to
develop new hydrogen production methods as a possible future energy source.
The search for thermophiles has taken Robb to some exotic locales, including deep-sea hydrothermal vents, geothermal
springs in the volcanic area's of Eastern Russia's Kamchatka, and Yellowstone National Park.
- VIDEO CLIP 1: "Hot For Hyperthermophiles"
Chaperones For When Things Get Too Hot