Molecular & Microbiology

The division conducts research in the field of environmental microbiology and plant pathology. The division’s aims are to explore the vast array of microbial communities of tropical peatland, understand their functions in the biogeochemical cycling as well as their response to climate and environmental changes.Although tropical peatland is characterised as an oligotrophic ecosystem, it is able to support high forest biomass and diversity. Microorganisms are the known biotic drivers in enabling the function and sustainability of these nutrient poor, acidic and waterlogged conditions, due to its metabolic ability in carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling. As microbial communities can contribute either to the consumption or emission of green house gases, they have the potential to be used for climate change mitigation.Therefore, the division is interested to document structures and functions of microbes in the natural peatland condition and also changes following peatland development to improve understanding on the role that microbes play in peat formation as well as C and N biogeochemical cycles in tropical peatlands.

Currently, the central questions in the research division are:

  1. What are the roles of microbes in the carbon and nitrogen cycles in tropical peatland and their metabolic pathways?
  2. How does land-use or environmental changes affect microbial communities in tropical peatland ecosystems?
  3. How pathogenic microbes emerge from their natural niche and affect crops planted on tropical peat?
The research division is well equipped with four main laboratories, which are Media Preparation, Environmental Microbiology, Plant Pathology and Molecular Biology.

Media Preparation and Environmental Microbiology Laboratory

We routinely perform microbial isolation (Bacteria, Actinobacteria, Yeasts and Fungi) from environmental samples of tropical peatland, which is the most biodiverse of peatlands. The microbial culture collection represents a highly valuable resource for novel beneficial microbes which may be exploited for their biotechnological as well as GHG mitigation potentials.

Plant Pathology Laboratory

The main activities carried out in the plant pathology laboratory are the isolation and identification of pathogens involved in crop disease such as basal stem rot of oil palm cultivated on tropical peatland in Sarawak. One of our research goals is to gain further insight into the underlying reason for oil palm disease occurrence caused by Ganoderma boninense in order to develop disease management strategies. As a model pathogen, any techniques developed can be applied to other pathogens showing similar characteristics.

Molecular Biology Laboratory

One of the main areas of research for the molecular biology laboratory is in metagenomics, which is the study of genetic material from environmental samples. Given that less than 1% of microbes from the environment is culturable, metagenomics enables us to study the diversity and functions of these unculturable microbes directly from tropical peat samples via methods such as DGGE and Next-Generation Sequencing. We are currently establishing the RNA Laboratory to facilitate gene expression and transcriptomic analysis in order to describe gene functions and interactions. Besides that, we are also able to perform protein extraction and separation works.