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The new biology of rocks: 'Are there medical implications of geomicrobiology?'

BOSTON, Mass. If microbial life is found on Mars, will it be native to the planet or something carried there from Earth? Either way, will it be safe to return samples of such organisms to Earth? Astrobiology, the search for life elsewhere, says a University of Illinois microbiologist, is making us look a lot closer at microbial life on Earth how it adapts and its relationship to emerging infectious diseases. Even if we dont find life on other planets, we are learning a lot about life on the Earth, particularly microbial life, Abigail Salyers said in an interview about her speech today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She challenged scientists to consider far-reaching possibilities in a talk titled Are There Medical Implications of Geomicrobiology?

Salyers, a professor of microbiology and the College of Medicine at the UIs Urbana-Champaign campus, is the outgoing president of the American Society for Microbiology, the oldest and largest life sciences organization in the world, with more than 42,000 members. Her year as president, she said, has made her an antenna absorbing the information coming from the members and trying to transmit some sense of it all.

Although the ASM represents 25 disciplines of microbial specialization, she said, there has been in the last five years a blurring of distinctions among them, and an increasing amount of communication. And now, she said, scientists need to focus more about life on Earth as the quest for life out there is attracting growing attention.

The big question for scientists, and which has implications for Earth, is can you have microorganisms evolve that would be able to cause disease in humans, animals or plants in a place where there are no humans, animals and plants? she said.

Adaptability, Salyers added, makes the issue a big one for astrobiology as we send spaceships to other planets. Earth already has yielded examples of the ability of m
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Contact: Jim Barlow
b-james3@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
15-Feb-2002


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