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Faculty & Staff

  • Image of Erica Lois-Wunderlich Majumder

    Erica Lois-Wunderlich Majumder

    Assistant Professor of Bacteriology

    5550 Microbial Sciences Building

Start and Promotion Dates

  • Assistant Professor: 2021


B.A. with Honors, Chemistry (ACS approved), Drury University 2010
Ph.D. Chemistry, Bioinorganic, Washington University in St. Louis 2015
Postdoctoral Research: University of Missouri-Columbia and The Scripps Research Institute

Areas of Study

Anaerobic metabolism, electron transfer, microbe-metal interactions, waste stream bioconversion to inorganic or polymer products, microbe-plastic interactions, contaminant biodegradation, metabolomics, activity of microbial chemistries

Research Overview

The Majumder Lab employs ‘omics-guided biochemistry to study the mechanisms and consequences of microbial inorganic metabolisms on environmental and human health.  We achieve this by investigating 1) Organismal response to perturbations in its environment, 2) Gene and metabolite function in situ, 3) Environmental applications of novel microbial chemistries.

Theme 1: Plastics
We recognize that one of the primary limitations of the big data era to understand complex biological systems is the reliance on incomplete genome annotations. Current genome annotations do not account for the multiplicity of functions one gene may perform nor do they include atypical metabolic pathways. We use genomics, enzymology and metabolomics-based technologies to determine the roles for specific genes, enzymes and metabolites in different conditions such as (1) bioplastic-precursor synthesis from waste carbon sources, (2) degradation of recalcitrant plastics in the environment, and (3) the ecology of the interactions between microplastics and Harmful Algal Blooms. 

Theme 2: Metals
As more and more organisms are sequenced and cultured, we are learning about an increasing range of microbial metabolisms and chemistries, especially from anaerobic bacteria. After determining these novel chemical capabilities, we can apply this knowledge and these microbes for greener solutions. Initial efforts in this theme are focused on the electron transfer and bioinorganic synthetic capabilities of anaerobes towards (1) enhanced wastewater treatment and (2) electricity production in photobioelectrochemical calls. 

Theme 3: Non-metal (Sulfur, Nitrogen, Phosphorus) Metabolites
One of the primary lessons the scientific community learned from the human genome and earth microbiome projects is that genome information alone cannot sufficiently explain observed phenotypes and that environmental factors are a significant, if not the main driving factor affecting phenotype presentation. Using a systems-level combination of genomics, metabolomics and biochemistry, we aim to elucidate the mechanisms of how environmental factors cause changes to an organism’s metabolism and result in the observed phenotype. Potential projects focused on this theme are (1) investigating the contributions of metabolism to prognosis in tick-borne diseases like Lyme’s, and (2) the effect of metal contamination on sulfur metabolism of the gut microbiome.

Connections across themes:
We anticipate cross-talk between the themes as genetic tools, mass spectrometry methods, and data analysis pipelines developed in one theme will be applicable in others.

Lab Personnel

Picture of Hou
Liyuan Hou
Picture of Shatara
Fuad Shatara
Grad Student

Research Papers

  • Guijas C, Montenegro-Burke JR, Cintron-Colon R, Domingo-Almenara X, Sanchez-Alavez M, Aguirre CA, Shankar K, Majumder EL, Billings E, Conti B, Siuzdak G (2020) Metabolic adaptation to calorie restriction. Science signaling 13((648)): PMC7580877 · Pubmed · DOI

    Calorie restriction (CR) enhances health span (the length of time that an organism remains healthy) and increases longevity across species. In mice, these beneficial effects are partly mediated by the lowering of core body temperature that occurs during CR. Conversely, the favorable effects of CR on health span are mitigated by elevating ambient temperature to thermoneutrality (30°C), a condition in which hypothermia is blunted. In this study, we compared the global metabolic response to CR of mice housed at 22°C (the standard housing temperature) or at 30°C and found that thermoneutrality reverted 39 and 78% of total systemic or hypothalamic metabolic variations caused by CR, respectively. Systemic changes included pathways that control fuel use and energy expenditure during CR. Cognitive computing-assisted analysis of these metabolomics results helped to prioritize potential active metabolites that modulated the hypothermic response to CR. Last, we demonstrated with pharmacological approaches that nitric oxide (NO) produced through the citrulline-NO pathway promotes CR-triggered hypothermia and that leucine enkephalin directly controls core body temperature when exogenously injected into the hypothalamus. Because thermoneutrality counteracts CR-enhanced health span, the multiple metabolites and pathways altered by thermoneutrality may represent targets for mimicking CR-associated effects.

  • Moon JW, Paradis CJ, Joyner DC, von Netzer F, Majumder EL, Dixon ER, Podar M, Ge X, Walian PJ, Smith HJ, Wu X, Zane GM, Walker KF, Thorgersen MP, Poole Ii FL, Lui LM, Adams BG, De León KB, Brewer SS, Williams DE, Lowe KA, Rodriguez M, Mehlhorn TL, Pfiffner SM, Chakraborty R, Arkin AP, Wall JD, Fields MW, Adams MWW, Stahl DA, Elias DA, Hazen TC (2020) Characterization of subsurface media from locations up- and down-gradient of a uranium-contaminated aquifer. Chemosphere 255:126951 · Pubmed · DOI

    The processing of sediment to accurately characterize the spatially-resolved depth profiles of geophysical and geochemical properties along with signatures of microbial density and activity remains a challenge especially in complex contaminated areas. This study processed cores from two sediment boreholes from background and contaminated core sediments and surrounding groundwater. Fresh core sediments were compared by depth to capture the changes in sediment structure, sediment minerals, biomass, and pore water geochemistry in terms of major and trace elements including pollutants, cations, anions, and organic acids. Soil porewater samples were matched to groundwater level, flow rate, and preferential flows and compared to homogenized groundwater-only samples from neighboring monitoring wells. Groundwater analysis of nearby wells only revealed high sulfate and nitrate concentrations while the same analysis using sediment pore water samples with depth was able to suggest areas high in sulfate- and nitrate-reducing bacteria based on their decreased concentration and production of reduced by-products that could not be seen in the groundwater samples. Positive correlations among porewater content, total organic carbon, trace metals and clay minerals revealed a more complicated relationship among contaminant, sediment texture, groundwater table, and biomass. The fluctuating capillary interface had high concentrations of Fe and Mn-oxides combined with trace elements including U, Th, Sr, Ba, Cu, and Co. This suggests the mobility of potentially hazardous elements, sediment structure, and biogeochemical factors are all linked together to impact microbial communities, emphasizing that solid interfaces play an important role in determining the abundance of bacteria in the sediments.

  • Krantz GP, Lucas K, Wunderlich EL, Hoang LT, Avci R, Siuzdak G, Fields MW (2019) Bulk phase resource ratio alters carbon steel corrosion rates and endogenously produced extracellular electron transfer mediators in a sulfate-reducing biofilm. Biofouling 35((6)):669-683 · Pubmed · DOI

    G20 biofilms were cultivated on 316 steel, 1018 steel, or borosilicate glass under steady-state conditions in electron-acceptor limiting (EAL) and electron-donor limiting (EDL) conditions with lactate and sulfate in a defined medium. Increased corrosion was observed on 1018 steel under EDL conditions compared to 316 steel, and biofilms on 1018 carbon steel under the EDL condition had at least twofold higher corrosion rates compared to the EAL condition. Protecting the 1018 metal coupon from biofilm colonization significantly reduced corrosion, suggesting that the corrosion mechanism was enhanced through attachment between the material and the biofilm. Metabolomic mass spectrometry analyses demonstrated an increase in a flavin-like molecule under the 1018 EDL condition and sulfonates under the 1018 EAL condition. These data indicate the importance of S-cycling under the EAL condition, and that the EDL is associated with increased biocorrosion indirect extracellular electron transfer mediated by endogenously produced flavin-like molecules.

  • Domingo-Almenara X, Montenegro-Burke JR, Guijas C, Majumder EL, Benton HP, Siuzdak G (2019) Autonomous METLIN-Guided In-source Fragment Annotation for Untargeted Metabolomics. Analytical chemistry 91((5)):3246-3253 PMC6637741 · Pubmed · DOI

    Computational metabolite annotation in untargeted profiling aims at uncovering neutral molecular masses of underlying metabolites and assign those with putative identities. Existing annotation strategies rely on the observation and annotation of adducts to determine metabolite neutral masses. However, a significant fraction of features usually detected in untargeted experiments remains unannotated, which limits our ability to determine neutral molecular masses. Despite the availability of tools to annotate, relatively few of them benefit from the inherent presence of in-source fragments in liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry. In this study, we introduce a strategy to annotate in-source fragments in untargeted data using low-energy tandem mass spectrometry (MS) spectra from the METLIN library. Our algorithm, MISA (METLIN-guided in-source annotation), compares detected features against low-energy fragments from MS/MS spectra, enabling robust annotation and putative identification of metabolic features based on low-energy spectral matching. The algorithm was evaluated through an annotation analysis of a total of 140 metabolites across three different sets of biological samples analyzed with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Results showed that, in cases where adducts were not formed or detected, MISA was able to uncover neutral molecular masses by in-source fragment matching. MISA was also able to provide putative metabolite identities via two annotation scores. These scores take into account the number of in-source fragments matched and the relative intensity similarity between the experimental data and the reference low-energy MS/MS spectra. Overall, results showed that in-source fragmentation is a highly frequent phenomena that should be considered for comprehensive feature annotation. Thus, combined with adduct annotation, this strategy adds a complementary annotation layer, enabling in-source fragments to be annotated and increasing putative identification confidence. The algorithm is integrated into the XCMS Online platform and is freely available at .

  • Ge X, Vaccaro BJ, Thorgersen MP, Poole FL, Majumder EL, Zane GM, De León KB, Lancaster WA, Moon JW, Paradis CJ, von Netzer F, Stahl DA, Adams PD, Arkin AP, Wall JD, Hazen TC, Adams MWW (2018) Iron- and aluminium-induced depletion of molybdenum in acidic environments impedes the nitrogen cycle. Environmental microbiology 21((1)):152-163 · Pubmed · DOI

    Anthropogenic nitrate contamination is a serious problem in many natural environments. Nitrate removal by microbial action is dependent on the metal molybdenum (Mo), which is required by nitrate reductase for denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium. The soluble form of Mo, molybdate (MoO ), is incorporated into and adsorbed by iron (Fe) and aluminium (Al) (oxy) hydroxide minerals. Herein we used Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) as a model nitrate-contaminated acidic environment to investigate whether the formation of Fe- and Al-precipitates could impede microbial nitrate removal by depleting Mo. We demonstrate that Fe and Al mineral formation that occurs as the pH of acidic synthetic groundwater is increased, decreases soluble Mo to low picomolar concentrations, a process proposed to mimic environmental diffusion of acidic contaminated groundwater. Analysis of ORR sediments revealed recalcitrant Mo in the contaminated core that co-occurred with Fe and Al, consistent with Mo scavenging by Fe/Al precipitates. Nitrate removal by ORR isolate Pseudomonas fluorescens N2A2 is virtually abolished by Fe/Al precipitate-induced Mo depletion. The depletion of naturally occurring Mo in nitrate- and Fe/Al-contaminated acidic environments like ORR or acid mine drainage sites has the potential to impede microbial-based nitrate reduction thereby extending the duration of nitrate in the environment.

  • Majumder EL, Wolf BM, Liu H, Berg RH, Timlin JA, Chen M, Blankenship RE (2017) Subcellular pigment distribution is altered under far-red light acclimation in cyanobacteria that contain chlorophyll f. Photosynthesis research 134((2)):183-192 · Pubmed · DOI

    Far-Red Light (FRL) acclimation is a process that has been observed in cyanobacteria and algae that can grow solely on light above 700 nm. The acclimation to FRL results in rearrangement and synthesis of new pigments and pigment-protein complexes. In this study, cyanobacteria containing chlorophyll f, Synechococcus sp. PCC 7335 and Halomicronema hongdechloris, were imaged as live cells with confocal microscopy. H. hongdechloris was further studied with hyperspectral confocal fluorescence microscopy (HCFM) and freeze-substituted thin-section transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Under FRL, phycocyanin-containing complexes and chlorophyll-containing complexes were determined to be physically separated and the synthesis of red-form phycobilisome and Chl f was increased. The timing of these responses was observed. The heterogeneity and eco-physiological response of the cells was noted. Additionally, a gliding motility for H. hongdechloris is reported.

  • Huan T, Forsberg EM, Rinehart D, Johnson CH, Ivanisevic J, Benton HP, Fang M, Aisporna A, Hilmers B, Poole FL, Thorgersen MP, Adams MWW, Krantz G, Fields MW, Robbins PD, Niedernhofer LJ, Ideker T, Majumder EL, Wall JD, Rattray NJW, Goodacre R, Lairson LL, Siuzdak G (2017) Systems biology guided by XCMS Online metabolomics. Nature methods 14((5)):461-462 PMC5933448 · Pubmed · DOI

    No abstract available.

  • Majumder EL, Wall JD (2017) Bio-transformations of Uranium: Chemical or Biological Processes? Open journal of inorganic chemistry 7((2)): · DOI

    No abstract available.

  • Majumder EL, Olsen JD, Qian P, Collins AM, Hunter CN, Blankenship RE (2015) Supramolecular organization of photosynthetic complexes in membranes of Roseiflexus castenholzii. Photosynthesis research 127((1)):117-30 · Pubmed · DOI

    The photosynthetic membranes of the filamentous anoxygenic phototroph Roseiflexus castenholzii have been studied with electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and biochemistry. Electron microscopy of the light-harvesting reaction center complex produced a 3D model that aligns with the solved crystal structure of the RC-LH1 from Thermochromatium tepidum with the H subunit removed. Atomic force microscopy of the whole membranes yielded a picture of the supramolecular organization of the major proteins in the photosynthetic electron transport chain. The results point to a loosely packed membrane without accessory antenna proteins or higher order structure.

  • Zhang Y, Majumder EL, Yue H, Blankenship RE, Gross ML (2014) Structural analysis of diheme cytochrome c by hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry and homology modeling. Biochemistry 53((35)):5619-30 PMC4159202 · Pubmed · DOI

    A lack of X-ray or nuclear magnetic resonance structures of proteins inhibits their further study and characterization, motivating the development of new ways of analyzing structural information without crystal structures. The combination of hydrogen-deuterium exchange mass spectrometry (HDX-MS) data in conjunction with homology modeling can provide improved structure and mechanistic predictions. Here a unique diheme cytochrome c (DHCC) protein from Heliobacterium modesticaldum is studied with both HDX and homology modeling to bring some definition of the structure of the protein and its role. Specifically, HDX data were used to guide the homology modeling to yield a more functionally relevant structural model of DHCC.

  • Gao X, Majumder EW, Kang Y, Yue H, Blankenship RE (2013) Functional analysis and expression of the mono-heme containing cytochrome c subunit of Alternative Complex III in Chloroflexus aurantiacus. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics 535((2)):197-204 · Pubmed · DOI

    The filamentous anoxygenic phototrophic bacterium Chloroflexus aurantiacus possesses an unusual electron transfer complex called Alternative Complex III instead of the cytochrome bc or bf type complex found in nearly all other known groups of phototrophs. Earlier work has confirmed that Alternative Complex III behaves as a menaquinol:auracyanin oxidoreductase in the photosynthetic electron transfer chain. In this work, we focus on elucidating the contribution of individual subunits to the overall function of Alternative Complex III. The monoheme subunit ActE has been expressed and characterized in Escherichia coli. A partially dissociated Alternative Complex III missing subunit ActE and subunit ActG was obtained by treatment with the chaotropic agent KSCN, and was then reconstituted with the expressed ActE. Enzymatic activity of the partially dissociated Alternative Complex III was greatly reduced and was largely restored in the reconstituted complex. The redox potential of the heme in the recombinant ActE was +385mV vs. NHE, similar to the highest potential heme in the intact complex. The results strongly suggest that the monoheme subunit, ActE, is the terminal electron carrier for Alternative Complex III.

  • Majumder EL, King JD, Blankenship RE (2013) Alternative Complex III from phototrophic bacteria and its electron acceptor auracyanin. Biochimica et biophysica acta 1827((11-12)):1383-91 · Pubmed · DOI

    Alternative Complex III (ACIII) is a multisubunit integral membrane protein electron transfer complex that is proposed to be an energy-conserving functional replacement for the bacterial cytochrome bc1 or b6f complexes. Clues to the structure and function of this novel complex come from its relation to other bacterial enzyme families. The ACIII complex has menaquinone: electron acceptor oxidoreductase activity and contains protein subunits with multiple Fe-S centers and c-type hemes. ACIII is found in a diverse group of bacteria, including both phototrophic and nonphototrophic taxa. In the phototrophic filamentous anoxygenic phototrophs, the electron acceptor is the small blue copper protein auracyanin instead of a soluble cytochrome. Recent work on ACIII and the copper protein auracyanin is reviewed with focus on the photosynthetic systems and potential electron transfer pathways and mechanisms. Taken together, the ACIII complexes constitute a unique system for photosynthetic electron transfer and energy conservation. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Respiratory Complex III and related bc complexes.

  • Badhwar J, Karri S, Cass CK, Wunderlich EL, Znosko BM (2007) Thermodynamic characterization of RNA duplexes containing naturally occurring 1 x 2 nucleotide internal loops. Biochemistry 46((50)):14715-24 · Pubmed · DOI

    Thermodynamic data for RNA 1 x 2 nucleotide internal loops are lacking. Thermodynamic data that are available for 1 x 2 loops, however, are for loops that rarely occur in nature. In order to identify the most frequently occurring 1 x 2 nucleotide internal loops, a database of 955 RNA secondary structures was compiled and searched. Twenty-four RNA duplexes containing the most common 1 x 2 nucleotide loops were optically melted, and the thermodynamic parameters DeltaH degrees , DeltaS degrees , DeltaG degrees 37, and TM for each duplex were determined. This data set more than doubles the number of 1 x 2 nucleotide loops previously studied. A table of experimental free energy contributions for frequently occurring 1 x 2 nucleotide loops (as opposed to a predictive model) is likely to result in better prediction of RNA secondary structure from sequence. In order to improve free energy calculations for duplexes containing 1 x 2 nucleotide loops that do not have experimental free energy contributions, the data collected here were combined with data from 21 previously studied 1 x 2 loops. Using linear regression, the entire dataset was used to derive nearest neighbor parameters that can be used to predict the thermodynamics of previously unmeasured 1 x 2 nucleotide loops. The DeltaG degrees 37,loop and DeltaH degrees loop nearest neighbor parameters derived here were compared to values that were published previously for 1 x 2 nucleotide loops but were derived from either a significantly smaller dataset of 1 x 2 nucleotide loops or from internal loops of various sizes [Lu, Z. J., Turner, D. H., and Mathews, D. H. (2006) Nucleic Acids Res. 34, 4912-4924]. Most of these values were found to be within experimental error, suggesting that previous approximations and assumptions associated with the derivation of those nearest neighbor parameters were valid. DeltaS degrees loop nearest neighbor parameters are also reported for 1 x 2 nucleotide loops. Both the experimental thermodynamics and the nearest neighbor parameters reported here can be used to improve secondary structure prediction from sequence.