Where are you from, and what is your role in Extreme 2004?
place I call home is Homer, Alaska, the self-proclaimed barn-door
halibut capital of the world. Since 2000, I have worked as
the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Environmental Field Scientist from
the southern tip of the Brooks Range to Prince William Sound
miles). My work there focuses largely on terrestrial and freshwater
flora and fauna, and protecting these communities from potential
changes or impacts from pipeline activity. I have a B.S in
biochemistry (Cal Poly) and have had a number of chemistry,
biology, and geology-related
jobs since then.
was a participant with Dr. Alison Murray's 2001 and 2002 "Gene Expression in
Extreme Environments" field team in Antarctica where I helped
in most aspects of the project field sampling (boat driving
and skiing on the sea ice), counting and cultivating microorganisms,
and extracting microbial DNA and RNA to look at genes and gene
expression. My role in Extreme 2004 — working on the Alvinella
Metagenome project — will be similar in many ways, since our
group is focused on studying gene expression in the hydrothermal
vent ecosystem. Since I am not a regular member of Dr. Murray's
team, I act as the "Gal Friday," who fills in any void I find
to keep the project moving forward. This can be anything from
data entry and counting microbes on prepared slides, to performing
extractions, cultivating microbes, preparing electrophoresis
gels, and making lattes. As a participant, my brief jaunts
into Dr. Murray's world of microbial genomics remind me what
it is I love about biochemistry — its ability to explore and
explain the mysteries of life and its origins.
is this research important? What are the benefits?
many great discoveries can occur, scientists need to build
a library of fundamental understanding, the "basic science" that
helps us understand the world. If we study the characteristics
that enable a creature to thrive in environments where humans
would quickly perish, it may help us understand other "extreme" organisms,
or other ways to survive in a hostile environment. Eventually,
others may be able to use the information we glean from Alvinella's survival
tactics to teach us new survival methods from "extreme" organisms
that could benefit our own survival.
The deep marine world is a place of great mystery, yet I am certain the exploratory tools we have today would exceed the legendary Jacques Cousteau's greatest expectations. The deep ocean and sub-floor environment may be our closest link to the early origins of life, and I can think of no more captivating reason to explore its depths.