UT Prof David White Honored at Environmental Symposium

KNOXVILLE — David White, a distinguished professor of microbiology and director of UT’s Center for Biomarker Analysis (CBA), was recently recognized for accomplishments in biomarker analysis and their application to environmental science and engineering at a leading environmental conference in Houston.

IPEC is an organization dedicated to making it more cost-effective for independent petroleum producers to comply with environmental regulations.

Prof. David White

White has developed biotechnology that detects patterns of fatlike molecules known as lipids in cell membranes of specific organisms. Those patterns, when sufficiently unique in structure or physiological activity, provide insight into the organisms and the communities in which they live. Known patterns are used as biomarkers for organisms.

“Since I won my first microscope at a science fair, my passion has been to understand how interactions among multiple species of microbes work to ensure success of the whole community,” said White.

The core research at CBA looks for reasons why some groups of microbes prosper in environments where single species fail to survive. The work defines the composition, metabolic status and activity of multispecies microbial consortia in biofilms, slimes, soils, sediments, arctic tundra and deep ocean vents.

“No matter where we look on this planet-from all over North America, Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, South Africa, to deep sea vents or on the ice sheets of Antarctica,” said White, “consortia of microbial life scratch out a living by working together.”

Biomarkers developed at CBA and tested in field studies at a site in Colorado recently demonstrated that microbiota could be stimulated to decrease the uranium (VI) concentration in groundwater to permissible levels. The reduced levels continued at least nine months after the introduction of the microbes. The research has enormous economic implications for waste containment at U.S. Department of Energy legacy sites.

White’s research has been reported in more than 565 peer-reviewed articles. Colleagues at the symposium, held Nov. 7-11, presented recent scientific work, some of which was generated from research initiated by White and the CBA research staff.

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Contact: Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409)

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