Where are you from, and what is your role in Extreme 2002?
I will be investigating the roles of bacteria that live in symbiotic association with the Pompeii worm. We will study the worms in situ (in their habitat) by video and chemical analyses. We will then collect a few worms to characterize them on board ship and back in the lab. We also will culture the bacteria associated with the worm in artificial media to see what they require for growth, as well as determine their DNA sequence. These studies will be crucial to understanding what mechanisms they use to survive their harsh environment and what their roles are in the symbiotic association.
What questions are you trying to answer and why?
We are interested in the symbiotic relationship between bacteria and the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana). This deep-sea annelid builds tubes on the surface of high-temperature (>40°C) hydrothermal vent chimneys. It has a fleece coating of bacteria whose role in the association is unclear. We believe that the bacteria are necessary for the worm to survive in the high temperatures and levels of toxic chemicals that are found in its environment. These conditions are believed to be similar to those present when life on Earth began. We wish to understand why the bacteria are specifically found on Alvinella pompejana and what their roles are in the symbiotic association.
Why is this research important?
Our research will expand current information regarding Alvinella pompejana, its symbionts, and the habitats of deep-sea hydrothermal vent bacteria. We will also better understand how bacteria flourish in this extreme environment, possibly expanding our knowledge of early life. Potentially, these bacteria or their products may be beneficial in such industrial processes as detoxification of heavy metals, or high-temperature/pressure enzymatic processes.
I initially started out in the medical field and worked in a clinical laboratory. In the clinical lab, I specialized in growing pathogenic bacteria. I found this work fascinating and decided to go on to graduate school. I went to Cornell University, where I received my Ph.D. in microbiology, investigating how certain viruses interact with their host. I worked at the National Institutes of Health in the medical field before switching to marine science here at the University of Delaware. Investigating deep-sea bacteria in relation to their extreme environment has opened up a whole new aspect of my scientific career.