Why and how do some microbes survive, and even flourish, at temperatures above 100˚C? This intriguing issue was studied while Prof. Willem de Vos held the (then new) part-time Chair in Bacterial Genetics. Earlier, De Vos was responsible for pioneering research on the molecular genetics of lactic-acid bacteria at NIZO food research in Ede, where he also acquired molecular-level insight into the structure-function relations of proteins.
New research line
A new research direction was initiated, together with Dr Rik Eggen, to investigate why extremophile enzymes remain intact when exposed to high temperatures. It led to the discovery of ADP-dependent kinases by Dr Servé Kengen, in Pyrococcus furiosus, isolated from deep-sea waters around a volcanic island in southern Italy. Subsequent experiments also revealed a completely novel glycolytic pathway – a process in which microorganisms convert glucose into pyruvate in order to extract energy – which operates at the boiling point of water. The studies were carried out in collaboration with Prof. John van der Oost, who later took over the Bacterial Genetics research group.