Members of the faculty at Monmouth College are often referred to as “teacher/scholars.”
Biology professor James Godde is an example of a teacher whose scholarly work extends beyond the classroom. Over the course of the spring semester, Godde read approximately 200 scientific articles, and he cited 108 of them in an article that has been published in Cell and Bioscience, a weekly online journal.
Titled “Breaking Through a Phylogenetic Impasse: A Pair of Associated Archaea Might Have Played Host in the Endosymbiotic Origin of Eukaryotes,” Godde’s article attempts to answer a question about the origin of eukaryotes, which has been a topic of intense debate among scientists.
“I originally set out to write a review paper about chromosomal proteins (histones) in archaea,” said Godde, who joined Monmouth’s faculty in 2001. “A review paper basically summarizes the opinions of other authors. But the more I read about the impasse on this issue among scientists, my paper morphed into a new hypothesis. Nobody else had made these connections.”
Godde’s hypothesis is a new theory for the origin of modern, or eukaryotic, cells. In layman’s terms, Godde explained that “eukaryotic” means having a “true nucleus,” and that any cell that’s not bacteria is eukaryotic.
“There are three players in this game, two from the archaea group and one bacteria,” he said, explaining that archaea are prokaryotes that are so different, they have a whole new classification, as they represent a third domain of life.
“These archaea are extremophiles, living in deep thermal marine vents, where there’s lots of pressure and complete darkness, yet they’re kicking out extreme heat,” said Godde.
While it is generally agreed that eukaryotic nuclei share more features in common with archaea rather than with bacteria, different studies have identified either one or the other of the two major groups of archaea as potential ancestors, leading to a stalemate.
Godde attempts to resolve the impasse by presenting evidence that not just one, but a pair of single-celled organisms – Ignicoccus hospitalis and Nanoarchaeum equitans – might have served as host to the bacterial ancestor of the mitochondria.
In explaining his theory, Godde said, “I thought, ‘Maybe it doesn’t have to be this archaea or that one that is the main ancestor. One is acting as a parasite on the other, and the host is from another group. It comes from both archaeal groups, plus bacteria. That would solve the problem. It’s just a theory at this point, and there’s not a lot of data yet.”
Godde likes to involve his students in the collection of data, a recent example being a field trip to the jungles of Malaysia. However, this data is even more difficult to collect than braving exposure to leeches in Southeast Asia.
“These organisms can’t be exposed to oxygen, so collection is tough, and it’s very expensive to keep them alive in a laboratory,” he said.
His students can get involved in related research involving membranes, though. Working in association with MC’s chemistry department, Godde said that experiments could be done on the “mixed membranes” that are part of his theory.
“There will be people who reject this theory because they’ll say the mixed membrane that would be a part of this would be too unstable,” he said. “We can recreate those membrane types in the lab and conduct our own experiments.”
Godde’s article can be found at www.cellandbioscience.com/content/2/1/29/abstract