The Department of Energy has picked a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory computer scientist for an Early Career Research Award and given him a $2.5 million grant to advance his work.
Sam Payne, a senior informatics scientist at the DOE national lab in Richland, is conducting research to identify proteins that could be used in biofuel production. He'll spend the grant money over five years.
Understanding the relationships between microbes and their environment is key to DOE's goal of manipulating microorganisms for biofuel production from materials such as plant residues, according to the DOE abstract for Payne's project. Microorganisms use proteins as a means to interact with their natural environments and digest their food to grow and survive.
Payne is developing algorithms to find patterns in large amounts of data generated by mass spectrometers to help identify proteins in complex samples of bacteria.
He'll use the grant to study the bacterial communities that help cows digest plants and improve the ability to identify the species of origin for newly discovered proteins within the community.
"In a natural environment with thousands of different organisms present, this complex process is crucial for understanding the specialized roles that individual microbes play within the community and how they convert plant material into biofuels," according to the abstract.
Payne was one of 68 researchers picked this year for an Early Career Research Award after DOE received 850 proposals. To be eligible, researchers must have earned a doctorate within the past decade.
The Early Career Research Program of DOE's Office of Science is designed to bolster the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during their early professional years, when many scientists do their most formative work, according to PNNL.