Dr. White obtains insights into photobiochemistry and the origin of life by establishing new unknown archaeal metabolism.
Defining the biochemical function of gene products is an important endeavor in the postgenomics age. Only after the exact functions of the many unknown genes are identified can we assess the true metabolic diversity present in our planet's organisms. This enormous task offers significant payoffs and will occupy scientists for many years in the future. From the perspective of Dr. White’s work, which is concerned with biosynthetic reactions in a methanogenic archaeon, applications of this knowledge ranges from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to efficiently producing methane energy sources from anthropogenic waste, to the identification of new drug targets. Every gene that can be assigned a function, no matter from which organism it originates, represents a significant scientific advance. The advent of genome sequencing has leveraged our work so that every description of a new enzyme informs us about the function of uncharacterized homologs in many different organisms. Because many of the genes his lab studies has a wider distribution than just in the Archaea, previous results have had unanticipated applications in annotating genomes of plants, animals, and pathogenic microorganisms.