Microbes can be found even in the most extreme environments on Earth. To demonstrate this, we go to extremes in our sampling field trips.
Ice and snow
Psychrotrophic and psychrophilic bacteria are among focus areas in our course and where better to look for them than in Icelands glaciers and raging glacial rivers. Here are a few photos from our sampling trips into these permanently cold environments.
At the other end of the temperature extreme, we have the thermophiles and hyperthermophiles. Iceland, being a volcanic island, has plenty of geothermal areas where we prospect for these extreme organisms. Here are some pictures from these hot field trips.
What kind of life thrives on bare rock in pitch-dark, cold, apparently lifeless lava tube caves? Quite an astonishing variety, actually! We have isolated hundreds of microbial strains from lava tubes. While many of them are facultatively chemolitho-trophic and have possible roles in rock weathering within the caves, others are remarkably similar to microbes isolated from soils etc., reflecting a complex community supported by both organic and inorganic nutrients that enter the cave from above via seepage through cracks and fissuers in the lava.
The Ocean is a vast treasure trove of as yet unmade discoveries. In 2014, the course participated in the Ocean Sampling Day, an international ocean bioprospecting event.
Like elsewhere in the Arctic, lichens form a particularly conspicuous part of the local vegetation in Iceland. There hardy fungal-algal symbiotic associations are home to a varied community of bacteria that have attracted the attention of microbial ecologists in recent years. What role, if any, do the bacteria play in the lichens' physiology and their interactions with the environment? In the course, we attempt to find answers to this and other questions at the cutting edge of lichen-associated bacteria research.
Iceland, being a geothermally active island, does not contain any permafrost to speak of, somewhat unusually for its latitude. In contrast, Icelandic soil is generally thin, mostly andosolic, generally very poor in organic nutrients, and, in large parts of the country, completely or very nearly barren. In spite of its uniqueness, the Icelandic soil microbiota has thus far been very little studied. Doubtless, the Icelandic soils contain many surprises waiting to be discovered!