Jessica Downing

Genomics-guided approaches to enzyme discovery in the extremophile Galdieria sulphuraria (i-CASE)

About me

I completed my undergraduate degree at Durham University, completing a MSc in Biology and Chemistry. During my final year project I worked to express protein domains from the parasite Toxoplasma gondii recombinantly. I also completed a project on computational systems biology, when I became interested in using computing for biological applications. Having completed an interdisciplinary degree, I have a broad range of interests ranging from bioactive chemistry to population genetics. I had become interested in plant and algal biology during my 3rd year of study, intrigued by the wide application and variety of research in the field. I went straight from my Integrated Masters into my PhD with Professor Seth Davis and Professor James Chong at the University of York, working with Phycosera as my industrial partner.

My project

Galdieria sulphuraria is a acidothermophilic red alga found worldwide in warm, acidic environments and also environments with levels of heavy metals that would be toxic to most life. It also has the ability to grow autotrophically and heterotrophically, using both light and a variety of carbon compounds as an energy source. These traits make it unique, but also extremely useful in the context of industrial biotechnology, a rapidly growing field as we try to reduce our fossil fuel usage. Advancements in DNA sequencing technologies has led to increased understanding of the evolution of this alga, however this does not come without it’s challenges. Many of the genes associated with the extremophilic abilities of Galdieria, are thought to have originated from horizontal gene transfer from archaea and bacteria in the environment, a hotly debated topic in evolutionary biology.

During my project I will be contributing to the understanding the structure and content of the Galdieria genome, allowing for subsequent genome mining. This will provide useful insights into how we can improve current models used in biotechnology, as well as increasing the wealth of information on Galdieria to develop it as a model organism in its own right.


Twitter: @JessieDowning4