Where are you from, and what is your role in Extreme 2004?
am one of two principal
investigators on the Extreme 2002 expedition, along with my
colleague Alison Murray, and I also have the rewarding position
as Chief Scientist. This is my 26th
cruise with the Alvin and
my seventh as
Chief Scientist. Being Chief Scientist means I am responsible
for the success of the science being conducted on the expedition.
My primary role is to interface between the ship and submersible
operations and the science to ensure that everything moves
smoothly and successfully.
We are very fortunate in this country to have the most professional and successful submersible operation in the world. This success is based on the professional attitude and enthusiasm of the crew of the Atlantis (mother ship) and the Alvin group. Ultimately, our success hinges on their abilities to get the sub in and out of the water every day and to carry out our desired tasks. These guys have never let us down!!
What questions are you working to answer and why?
The project we are working on involves understanding how the microbial community on the back of the Pompeii worm interacts and adapts to its changing environment. To do this, since the bacteria cannot be grown in culture, we must use genomic (molecular) technologies borrowed from the Human Genome program. These technologies allow us to understand what the bacteria can do (genetically) and what they are actually doing in order to survive in this extreme environment. Our goal on this trip will be to sample Pompeii worms from different chemical habitats around the vents. To do this, we must first use our chemical sensors while in the sub to tell us what the different habitats are like — then we will collect worms and place them in a special new device we call ARTIE (named after the guy who built it) where the worms and their bacteria will be chemically held in suspended animation until they reach the surface.
Why is this research important? What are the benefits?
Studying bacteria that live in extreme environments is not only interesting
from a biological perspective but has important links to the evolution
of life on our planet. Evidence now strongly suggests that life may have
originated under high-temperature conditions and so studying thermophilic
bacteria may shed light on the early processes that led to life as we
know it. In addition, in examining how these bacteria adapt to high temperature,
we may discover enzymes that we can borrow for industrial chemical applications
that demand high-temperature situations. Mostly, we study these systems
because they are interesting — this one fact is what has motivated
most of the greatest scientific discoveries in the past and we hope in
What’s your educational background and what lured you into marine research?
I was born in the United States, spending most of my early years in southern California. Living in Los Angeles, my family and I would spend much of the summer on the beach. Little did I know that these early exposures to the marine environment would have such a long-lasting impact on my life. We moved to England when I was 10, where I was immediately thrust into the very strict and more demanding British educational system. It was here that I clearly remember becoming passionate about marine biology. A young Australian visiting teacher taught my first biology class, working in marine biology wherever possible. I was hooked!
This experience led to a summer job at London’s National Aquarium. I decided this was what I wanted to study in university, and so in my senior year, I applied to colleges in the United States that had undergraduate programs in marine sciences. I spent four years at the Florida Institute of Technology majoring in marine biology. With that introduction behind me, I was fortunate to receive the Our World Underwater Scholarship. This year-long scholarship is awarded to an individual wishing to gain more experience in any marine-related field. I spent an entire year traveling around the world working with marine scientists from all disciplines. At the close of that year, I decided to return to school and earned a master’s degree at San Diego State University developing new approaches for culturing marine bivalves. After completing my master’s degree, I decided to spend a year working as a marine naturalist in Indonesia. Here, I was fortunate to explore dozens of rarely visited islands and many reefs that had never seen a SCUBA diver. I returned to the states and in the fall of 1983 began my doctoral work at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. This was a dream come true. I was fortunate to arrive at Scripps shortly after the discovery of hydrothermal vents and to be taken into a laboratory that was heavily involved in vent research. Six years and over 15 cruises later, I emerged from Scripps with a Ph.D. and an intense love of science.
I was fortunate to receive an NSF Marine Biotechnology Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue my training in molecular biology in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Giovannoni at Oregon State University. The application of molecular biology to examine questions in marine ecology was brand new and certainly one of the exciting frontiers in marine science. I spent four years in Oregon researching aspects of vent symbiosis and microbiology.
In 1994, I accepted a position in the College of Marine Studies at the University of Delaware, where my lab continues to research aspects of vent symbioses and free-living microbial life in this very extreme environment. My lab has recently ventured into another extreme environment to study soil microbial communities in one of the driest/coldest places on Earth — the Dry Valleys of the Antarctic.