[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 15-Oct-1997
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
National Science Foundation

Limits Of Life On Earth: Are They The Key To Life On Other Planets?

New Nsf Grants To Foster Answers

From scalding hot places that rival Dante's Inferno to frigid locations colder than the dark side of the moon, scientists taking part in a $6 million National Science Foundation (NSF) research initiative are searching for life forms on Earth that may provide insight about possible life on other planets. The first NSF awards in this initiative -- which is titled Life in Extreme Environments (LExEn) -- involve more than 20 research projects and some 40 scientists who will look at life in Earth's most extreme habitats.

"Life flourishes on the earth in an incredibly wide range of environments," explains Mike Purdy, coordinator of the NSF initiative. "These environments may be analogous to the harsh conditions that exist now, or have existed, on earth and other planets. The study of microbial life forms and the extreme environments they inhabit can provide new insights into how these organisms adapted to diverse environments, and shed light on the limits within which life can exist."

NSF's directorates of biological sciences; engineering; geosciences; mathematical and physical sciences; and office of polar programs are providing total funding of $6 million to explore the relationships between organisms and the environments in which they exist. A strong emphasis has been placed on environments that are near the extremes of conditions on earth. Funding will also support research about our solar system and beyond, to help identify possible new sites for life beyond earth.

Scientists are studying environments such as the earth's hydrothermal systems, sea ice and ice sheets, anoxic habitats, hypersaline lakes, high altitude or polar deserts, and human-engineered environments such as those created for industrial processes. Projects involve finding techniques for isolating and culturing microbes found in extreme environments, developing methods of studying these microbes in their natural habitats and devising technologies for recovering non-contaminated samples.




Jan P. Amend
Washington University, St. Louis Growth Media for Hyperthermophiles: Geochemical Constraints on Realistic Carbon and Energy Sources in Shallow Marine Hydrothermal Systems
Ariel D. Anbar
University of Rochester Biogenic Fractionations of Transition Metal Isotopes: Novel Methods for the Examination of Life in Extreme Environments
Douglas H. Bartlett
Scripps Inst. Of Oceanography Characterization of the Upper Pressure Limits for Microbial Life
Don K. Button
University of Alaska Characteristics of Bacteria Native to Extremely Dilute Environments
David A. Caron
Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. Protistan Biodiversity in Antarctic Marine Ecosystems: Molecular Biological and Traditional Approaches
James P. Cowen
University of Hawaii Collaborative Research: Development of Capability to Measure Proxides of Microbial Activity Within Ocean Crust
Christian H. Fritsen
Montana State University Collaborative Research: Microbial Life within the Extreme Environment Posed by Permanent Antarctic Lake Ice
John E. Hobbie
Marine Biological Laboratory Ecology of Microbial Systems in Extreme Environments: The Role of Nanoflagellates in Cold and Nutrient-Poor Arctic Freshwaters
Holger W. Jannasch
Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. New Physiological and Phylogenetic Types of Hyperthermophiles at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents
Eric L.N. Jensen
Arizona State University Prospects for Life on Planets in Binary Star Systems
James F. Kasting
The Pennsylvania State Univ. Collaborative Research: Methanogenesis and the Climate of Early Mars
Douglas N.C. Lin
University of California Habitable Planets and Satellites in the Outer Solar System
Derek R. Lovley
University of Massachusetts Fe (III)-and Humics-Reducing Microorganisms in Extreme Environments
George W. Luther
University of Delaware Collaborative Research: Pyrite, a Crucial Mineral and Surface for Microbial Life in Extreme Hydrothermal Environments
Tullis C. Onstott
Princeton University A Window Into the Extreme Environment of Deep Subsurface Microbial Communities: Witwatersrand Deep Microbiology Project
Frederick A. Rainey
Louisiana State University Combining Culturing and Non-Culturing Approaches for the Isolation of Prokaryotes from a Hyper Arid Desert Environment
William S. Reeburgh
University of California Experimental Studies on Hydrogen Biogeochemistry in Anoxic Environments
John N. Reeve
The Ohio State University Longevity and Diversity of Microorganisms Entrapped in Tropical and Polar Ice Cores
David A. Stahl
Northwestern University Diversity and Habitat Range of Sulfate-Reducing Microorganisms
Gordon T. Taylor
SUNY at Stony Brook Biology and Ecology of South Pole Snow Microbes
Thomas C. Vogelmann
University of Wyoming The Snow Alga Chlamydomonas nivalis: Photosynthesis Under the Greatest Extremes of High Light, UV-B Radiation and Low Temperature on Earth
Russell H. Vreeland
West Chester University Paleobiology of Ancient Salt Formations: Examination of Primary Crystals for Biological Materials



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