Current research interests revolve about the synthesis, structure and function of RNA; and the application of molecular biological tools to problems in environmental microbial biology.
A main effort of the laboratory is on the study of RNase P, an RNA processing enzyme responsible for removing the 5' termini of tRNA precursors during their maturation. This is a particularly interesting enzyme because the catalytic element is itself an RNA; RNase P is a ribozyme. Studies underway include analyses of the structure of the RNase P RNA, the nature of its interaction with tRNA precursors and other substrates, and the mechanism of the RNA-catalyzed reaction.
A second emphasis is on developing methods for analyzing phylogenetic and quantitative aspects of natural microbial populations without the necessity for laboratory cultivation. The methods rely on cloning and sequencing ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes for phylogenetic analyses, and the use of rRNA-based hybridization probes for various studies of microbial ecosystems. Investigations are broadly directed, for instance toward high-temperature environments, unusual symbioses, environmental bioremediation and selected human diseases.