2002-2003 Science Planning Summary

Biology & Medicine

Dr. Polly Penhale
Program Manager


NSF/OPP 00-85435
Station: Palmer Station
RPSC POC: Rob Edwards
Research Site(s): Arthur Harbor, Bismark Strait

Gene expression in extreme environments: Extending microarray technology to understand life at its limits
Dr. Alison E. Murray
Desert Research Institute
Earth and Ecosystem Sciences

Deploying Team Members: Joe Grzymski . Alison E Kelley . Alison E Murray
Research Objectives: One of the most difficult challenges facing scientists who study life in extreme environments is observing the organisms in situ, and then extrapolating those observations into descriptions that capture both the unique aspects of life and the adaptations required for survival. The antarctic marine psychrophiles (cold-loving organisms) provide an excellent model group of extreme microorganisms to study. Very little is known about their biological and functional diversity or about the metabolic adaptations they have developed to live at -1.8ºC.

Such work may well have fairly direct practical benefits. DNA microarray technology can be applied to studies of life in extreme environments and may identify new genes for use in biotechnology. You begin by identifying specific adaptations to extreme environments and then try to detect genes that are uniquely expressed to subserve them. By discovering these genes in natural (though extreme) environments, scientists not only learn about their functions, but might obviate the need for having to cultivate them.

The details of this work entail:

Sequencing six large bacterial genomic DNA fragments isolated directly from antarctic marine psychrophiles,

Constructing two different types of DNA microarrays designed to identify genes being actively expressed in uncultivated microorganisms living in the sub-zero marine waters of the Antarctic,

Optimizing specific aspects of microarray technology for use with environmental samples, and

Developing a transferable methodology that will be useful for other researchers in accessing gene expression information directly from the natural environment.

Field Season Overview:
The researchers plan to investigate gene expression in the marine bacterioplankton near Palmer Station. Project team members will travel to Palmer Station on board the R/V Laurence M. Gould. From there, depending on conditions, they will travel over the sea ice or in Zodiac inflatable boat to sample seawater in Arthur Harbor and other local sites. They will also sample seawater from the Palmer pump house, collect ice cores, brash ice, and marine sediment. Samples will be returned to the Palmer Station laboratory for experiments and analysis.