Molecular & Microbiology

The Molecular and Microbiology Division conducts research in the field of environmental microbiology and plant pathology. The oligotrophic peatland ecosystem supports high forest biomass and diversity, including microorganisms. With their vast metabolic capacities, great adaptability to environmental changes and extensive range of interactions, the microorganisms are the known biotic drivers enabling the nutrient poor, acidic and waterlogged environments to function sustainably.

The Division’s aims are to:
  1. Explore the vast array of microbial communities and their role in tropical peatland.
  2. Understand microbial communities’ functions in biogeochemical cycling under natural tropical peatland conditions and conditions that have changed following peatland development.
  3. Understand microbial communities’ contribution to climate change and their reponse to environmental changes.
Currently, the central questions in the Molecular and Microbiology Division are:
  1. What are microbes’ roe in the carbon and nitrogen cycles in tropical peatland and what are their metabolic pathways?
  2. How does land-use or environmental change affect microbial communities in tropical peatland ecosystems?
  3. How do pathogenic microbes in their natural niches become able to affect crops planted on tropical peat?
  4. How do pathogenic microbes and plantation crops established on tropical peat interact?

The Division supports three laboratories:

Environmental Microbiology Laboratory

The laboratory routinely isolates a range of microbes (bacteria, actinobacteria, yeasts and fungi) from soil samples collected from tropical peatland. The microbial culture collection represents a resource of immense value to those interested in identifying microbes with novel properties which could be exploited for their potential beneficial biotechnological and/or greenhouse gas mitigation effects.

Plant Pathology Laboratory

The laboratory’s main activities are the isolation and identification of pathogens involved in crop diseases such as basal stem rot of oil palm cultivated on tropical peatland in Sarawak. An important research goal is to gain further insight into the occurrence of disease caused by Ganoderma boninense. Strategies and techniques to manage disease caused by this pathogen are being developed which can potentially be applied to other pathogens showing similar characteristics.

Molecular Biology Laboratory

Less than 1% of microbes from samples from the environment can be cultured. However, there is a way to study the diversity and functions of microbes collected directly from tropical peat samples, using metagenomics – the study of genetic material from the environment.

Metagenomics is one of Molecular Biology Laboratory’s main research areas. It is explored
via meta 16S amplicon sequencing and whole shotgun metagenomic sequencing. The Dayhoff Resource Room is a bioinformatics facility equipped with high performance computer workstations and a server to accommodate the massive datasets generated by the metagenomics study. Protein extraction and separation works are ongoing and an RNA Laboratory is currently being established to facilitate gene expression and transcriptomic analysis in order to describe gene functions and interactions.