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Conducting science in extreme environments: Video-article highlights microbiologist's Antarctica research

05/10/2012

Rachael Morgan-Kiss and research team in the Antarctica Dry Valleys
Rachael Morgan-Kiss, assistant professor of microbiology at Miami University, and her 2011-2012 Antarctica research expedition team Jenna Dolhi, doctoral student, and Nick Ketchum, senior microbiology major, are co-authors of an article highlighted in the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), the first scientific video journal. "This interesting video-article produced by the JoVE video team helps show exactly how scientists navigate in this challenging (Antarctic) environment," said Beth Hovey, JoVE editorial director.

Morgan-Kiss’ research focuses on single-celled microorganisms (protists) residing in the permanently ice-capped lakes in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica - specifically Lake Bonney in the JoVE study.

"Our laboratory has a focus on understanding adaptations in extreme environments," said Morgan-Kiss. "Ice-covered lakes are much simpler to study than typical aquatic environments because all of the organisms in the lake are microbial. They are at both the top and the bottom of the food chain."

The perennial ice cover maintains a chemically stratified water column and unlike other inland bodies of water, largely prevents external input of carbon and nutrients from streams.

Studies of protist diversity and ecology in this extreme environment have been limited, say the study authors. Many of the protists have a mixotrophic metabolism, meaning that they survive either by fixing carbon, like plants, or by eating other protists (single-celled microbial eukaryotes). However, it's not known what causes these organisms to display one type of metabolism over another.

A better understanding of protist metabolic versatility in the simple dry valley lake food web will aid in the development of models for the role of protists in the global carbon cycle, say the study authors.

"Research in Antarctica can add a great deal of insight in the realm of climate change. By opening a window into how to conduct science in extreme environments, Dr. Morgan-Kiss and her colleagues are helping advance this field of study," said Hovey.

About the production

Morgan-Kiss explained “My field team filmed the Antarctica sampling steps and a videographer from JoVE visited our lab at Miami and filmed the parts of the project. We wrote a manuscript, which was peer reviewed. Once the manuscript was accepted for publication, the JoVE videographer team developed a script based on our manuscript. It was a very interesting experience, and we were really pleased with the result.”

“Establishment of Microbial Eukaryotic Enrichment Cultures from a Chemically Stratified Antarctic Lake and Assessment of Carbon Fixation Potential” is published in the April 20, 2012 issue of JoVE.

Research in Antarctica

Rachael Morgan-Kiss and her research team are among several scientists at Miami who conduct research in Antarctica.

During the 2011-2012 Antarctica field season, two teams of researchers, led by Rachael Morgan-Kiss and by Richard Lee, Distinguished Professor of Zoology, conduced research at different ends of the continent, joined by graduate students, an undergraduate student and an elementary school teacher. Yuta Kawarasaki, doctoral student of Lee, conducted research over a five-month period from February through June.

Miami researchers have had a long presence in the Antarctic, beginning with geochemist Bill Green, professor emeritus of interdisciplinary studies, more than 30 years ago.

Morgan-Kiss' research is supported by an NSF CAREER grant, which will support a research team of undergraduate and graduate students on three Antarctic field seasons over five years.

A four-part series about Antarctica research by Miami scientists is here.

Sampling in the Antarctica Dry Valleys, 1983 (Bill Green expedition)

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