The ENIGMA Science Focus Area (SFA) is a multi-disciplinary research effort working to develop a deeper understanding of the effect of anthropogenic pollution on subsurface microbiology. ENGIMA specifically studies the subsurface site within the Y-12 Area of the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR), a manufacturing facility located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee that is contaminated with high concentrations of multiple heavy metals, nitrate, and low pH. ENIGMA researchers are currently examining the influence of these environmental stressors on critical microbial processes within the ORR ecosystem with the understanding that these models could be applied to other watersheds where anthropogenic impacts affect microbial communities. Due to the high concentrations of nitrate at the site, a particular interest is studying how these human-caused disturbances influence microbial transformations of nitrogen compounds such as nitrate, nitrite, and nitrous oxide.
To accomplish these goals, ENIGMA is organized into three aims reflective of different research scales (i.e., field level to molecular level).
Aim 1: Subsurface Observatory
Field Scale Microbial Ecology
Researchers working within ENIGMA Aim 1 are characterizing the microbial ecology of the contaminated ORR subsurface by collecting data on both the microbial community and geochemistry (i.e, pH, nitrate levels, heavy metal levels) of the site. These studies will show us how the anthropogenic perturbations influence the native microbial community present at this site
Aim 2: Environmental Atlas
Genomic Advances Fuel Discovery
Building off Subsurface Observatory field observations, researchers within ENIGMA Aim 2 are working to isolate a collection of microorganisms reflective of the biodiversity found in the contaminated ORR subsurface. Like an atlas of animals that you might find on the shelves of your local bookstore, our Environmental Atlas is more than just a list of the microorganisms found at the site. Once completed, it will include high-resolution microscopy images, growth data, and genomic data for each ORR isolate.
Aim 3: Environmental Simulations
Omics-Facilitated Laboratory Simulations
ENIGMA Aim 3 researchers are investigating ecologically important microbial phenomena on a molecular level in the laboratory.