- Department of Biochemistry
- College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
The Allen lab studies the functions and enzymatic mechanisms of unique metalloenzymes in methanogenic archaea and anaerobic methanotrophic archaea.
Methanogenic archaea are a diverse group of anaerobic microorganisms with complex energy metabolisms that reduce select small molecules to produce methane as a final end product. This process, called methanogenesis, generates over a billion tons of methane each year, which accounts for 90% of the methane generated on Earth. Related organisms known as anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME) carry out reverse methanogenesis to oxidize methane for use as both a carbon and energy source. Given that methane is a potent greenhouse gas as well as a powerful energy source, understanding the molecular details of anaerobic methane metabolism is an important endeavor. Methanogens and ANME contain a wealth of unusual biochemistry, much of which remains to be discovered or fully understood.
The Allen lab seeks to uncover and characterize unique enzymes, reactions, and biomolecules in these organisms. The lab is specifically interested in methyl- coenzyme M reductase (MCR), the key nickel enzyme that catalyzes the final step of methanogenesis and the first step of anaerobic methane oxidation. Additionally, the lab studies several diverse iron-sulfur cluster enzymes in the radical S-adenosylmethionine superfamily that are involved in coenzyme biosynthesis and RNA modification in methanogens and ANME.