|K023: Life at the Extreme: Resolving the Genetic Basis of Microbial Endemism in the Super-Heated Soils of Mt Erebus, Antarctica|
University of Waikato
The study of high temperature extreme environments continues to challenge our understanding of the upper tolerances of microbial life and how life may have originated on earth and possibly other planets. The Tramway Ridge geothermal site on Mt Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica, is the most geographically isolated geothermal site on earth providing an excellent system for studies of microbial speciation, biogeography, and evolution of thermal adaptation. A recent preliminary genetic survey of the Tramway Ridge microflora revealed an unprecedented diversity of extremely novel microbes only distantly related to any known bacteria. Most of these loose affiliations are with organisms identified from deep-subsurface systems suggesting the Tramway Ridge community may be archaic and of a sub-surface origin. A group dominates the community that to date has no known cultured or environmental representative.
Recent advances in high throughput DNA sequencing and bioinformatics allow us to acquire and decipher the genetic capabilities and structure of entire microbial communities without the necessity of cultivation. Employing a combination of these advanced genetic methods coupled with culture dependant approaches we will undertake a gene-centric analysis of the Tramway Ridge microflora and other Antarctic geothermal sites to address questions focused on endemism, biogeography, evolution, and adaptation.