Breaking The Ice, Temple University Biologist Spends Two Months Researching In Antarctica
Like many of his students, Robert W. Sanders, a professor of biology at Temple University, headed south for winter break. However, it was not sun and surf he was seeking, but slush and ice.
Beginning in late December, Sanders and colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Woods Hole, MA, embarked on a two-month trip to Antarctica aboard an ice-breaking research vessel to study microorganisms and retrieve samples to analyze back in their laboratories. The National Science Foundation's "Life in Extreme Environments" (LExEn) program funded the work.
"The data we gathered, plus the DNA samples and the live cultures we brought back, will be the basis of research for several years," says Sanders. "We're using the samples for molecular analysis and comparison, and to study the systematics of protists, which are microscopic algae and protozoa; namely, how they're related and how they evolved, and their ecology--what temperatures they live in, what they eat, how they affect their prey populations."
By studying organisms that live in thermal vents and in areas such as the Arctic and Antarctic, according to Sanders, scientists can gain greater insight into how they survive in such hostile locales.
"This project, like others supported by the LExEn program, may have tie-ins with the recent reports of fossilized microbes on meteors from Mars," he says. "If there were life on other planets, it would have to be adapted to an extreme environment. Our work will contribute to understanding biology at the limits of life."
Sailing aboard the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer, the researchers collected
hundreds of samples from the sediment along the bottom of the ocean, four
kilometers below, and from the water. In addition to these shipboard
collections, they frequently disembarked to gather samples from the ice, which
was thick enough
Contact: Tom Durso