Collaborative Research: An Integrated Ecological Investigation of McMurdo Dry Valley's Active Soil Microbial Communities
The McMurdo Dry Valleys in Antarctica are among the coldest, driest habitats on the planet. Previous research has documented the presence of surprisingly diverse microbial communities in the soils of the Dry Valleys despite these extreme conditions. However, the degree to which these organisms are active is unknown; it is possible that much of this diversity reflects microbes that have blown into this environment that are subsequently preserved in these cold, dry conditions. This research will use modern molecular techniques to answer a fundamental question regarding these communities: which organisms are active and how do they live in such extreme conditions? The research will include manipulations to explore how changes in water, salt and carbon affect the microbial community, to address the role that these organisms play in nutrient cycling in this environment. The results of this work will provide a broader understanding of how life adapts to such extreme conditions as well as the role of dormancy in the life history of microorganisms. Results will be widely disseminated through publications as well as through presentations at national and international meetings; raw data will be made available through a high-profile web-based portal. The research will support two graduate students, two undergraduate research assistants and a postdoctoral fellow. The results will be incorporated into a webinar targeted to secondary and post-secondary educators and a complimentary hands-on class activity kit will be developed and made available to various teacher and outreach organizations.
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