What is your role in Extreme 2002?
I study the heat tolerance of the bacterial symbionts of the vent polychaete Alvinella pompejana. This worm is thought to be the most heat-tolerant animal on Earth and has been found to live in temperatures as high as 80°C (176°F). It builds its home on actively venting chimneys, where temperatures are among the most variable and extreme on the planet. Alvinellas symbionts live on hairs that cover the worms back, and studies of their heat tolerance will provide insight into the physiological mechanisms that these organisms employ in order to live and grow at such extremes.
Because the worms and their associated bacteria cannot be maintained for long after they emerge from depth, direct temperature studies cannot be performed in the lab. Therefore, the means by which I am studying their capacity to tolerate these extreme temperature fluctuations involves testing the activities of their enzymes. This system is an ideal one in which to find heat-tolerant enzymes, which are useful in bioindustry. On this cruise, I will be extracting DNA from the bacteria in order to find genes which code for thermostable enzymes.