There are two histories for the coevolution of Earth’s chemistry and life throughout geological time. One is recorded in rocks and the other is encoded in the genomes of extant microbes. Research in the Laboratory Exploring Geobiochemical Engineering and Natural Dynamics (LEGEND) focuses on proteins, the genome products of microbes, and their interactions with major and minor element cycles, both modern and ancient. Proteins are the active agents in mechanisms linking biological gene products to geochemistry. Major and minor geochemical nutrient cycles are delicately intertwined because integral proteins involved in nutrient transformation require metal cofactors. Oxygen transfer is affected by Fe, Mn, Ni, Cu, and Zn (superoxide dismutase); the carbon cycle is affected by Zn, Co, and Cd (carbonic anhydrase); and phosphorus cycling is affected by Zn, Fe, and Ca (alkaline phosphatase). LEGEND combines field-based geochemistry and biochemistry to determine active mechanisms of nutrient transformation in the environment. LEGEND seeks to provide a framework for how life has evolved in coordination with geologic processes on Earth, as well as engineer solutions to anthropogenic problems. We have begun to apply the combination of proteomic, geochemical, and theoretical techniques to varied systems including terrestrial hot springs, acid mine drainage, and surface streams.
Dr. Alysia Cox received her B.S. summa cum laude in the Geological Sciences with minors in Biology and German from the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. She earned her PhD in Chemical Oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 2011. After postdoctoral work at ASU and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), Dr. Cox started the Laboratory Exploring Geobiochemical Engineering and Natural Dynamics (LEGEND) at Montana Tech in the Department of Chemistry and Geochemistry. She is starting LEGENDS (LEGEND South) at Yachay Tech in the School of Geological Sciences and Engineering. Her research combines geochemistry with biochemistry to determine active mechanisms of chemical reactions with wide application to the environment. Her integration of proteomic techniques and geochemical context in environmental samples determines what is actively happening in the environment at a given time and place under the set of conditions present, as well as providing a framework for how life has evolved in coordination with Earth in the past.