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National Science Foundation supports UCR study of polar lake life forms

University of California, Riverside researchers will soon be analyzing microorganisms from a vast Antarctic lake in an effort to unlock the mystery of how life adapts to extremely harsh environments.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences Brian Lanoil is spearheading a project that will probe the life found in Lake Vostok, the world's seventh largest lake, a Great Lakes-size body of fresh water trapped under 4 kilometer-thick polar ice sheet.

The goal is to reconstruct the genomes of the microorganisms that live in the lake in order to find clues to how they have been able to withstand the bitter cold, total darkness, low nutrients and high oxygen levels. The project scientists also want to know how these organisms have survived in this bleak landscape over evolutionary and geologically significant lengths of time. The lake is estimated to have been buried under ice for at least 15 million years and is thought to have been isolated from the external environment over the last 1.5 million years.

"Previous studies showing that microorganisms live in this extremely isolated and severe environment really show the tenacity of life: wherever life is possible, we find it," Lanoil said. "Our study will help provide insight into how microorganisms manage to survive in these conditions."

Funded with a two-year, $481,000 National Science Foundation grant, Lanoil will be working with colleagues Craig Cary at the University of Delaware and Philip Hugenholtz at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They will compare their results with a similar study carried out by Sergei Bulat at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The NSF funding is part of a special Congressional appropriation in support of the International Polar Year (IPY). The IPY, which will extend from March 2007 through March 2009, is an international scientific campaign to learn more about polar science, to improve understanding of the critical role of the pol
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Contact: Ricardo Duran
ricardo.durant@ucr.edu
951-827-5893
University of California - Riverside
12-Jan-2007


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