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1.  Archaea in Past and Present Geobiochemical Processes and Elemental Cycles 
Archaea  2013;2013:930493.
PMCID: PMC3697276  PMID: 23843726
2.  Exposure of phototrophs to 548 days in low Earth orbit: microbial selection pressures in outer space and on early earth 
The ISME Journal  2011;5(10):1671-1682.
An epilithic microbial community was launched into low Earth orbit, and exposed to conditions in outer space for 548 days on the European Space Agency EXPOSE-E facility outside the International Space Station. The natural phototroph biofilm was augmented with akinetes of Anabaena cylindrica and vegetative cells of Nostoc commune and Chroococcidiopsis. In space-exposed dark controls, two algae (Chlorella and Rosenvingiella spp.), a cyanobacterium (Gloeocapsa sp.) and two bacteria associated with the natural community survived. Of the augmented organisms, cells of A. cylindrica and Chroococcidiopsis survived, but no cells of N. commune. Only cells of Chroococcidiopsis were cultured from samples exposed to the unattenuated extraterrestrial ultraviolet (UV) spectrum (>110 nm or 200 nm). Raman spectroscopy and bright-field microscopy showed that under these conditions the surface cells were bleached and their carotenoids were destroyed, although cell morphology was preserved. These experiments demonstrate that outer space can act as a selection pressure on the composition of microbial communities. The results obtained from samples exposed to >200 nm UV (simulating the putative worst-case UV exposure on the early Earth) demonstrate the potential for epilithic colonization of land masses during that time, but that UV radiation on anoxic planets can act as a strong selection pressure on surface-dwelling organisms. Finally, these experiments have yielded new phototrophic organisms of potential use in biomass and oxygen production in space exploration.
PMCID: PMC3176519  PMID: 21593797
algae; bacteria; cyanobacteria; epilith; low Earth orbit; space exploration
4.  Isolation of Novel Extreme-Tolerant Cyanobacteria from a Rock-Dwelling Microbial Community by Using Exposure to Low Earth Orbit▿ † 
Many cyanobacteria are known to tolerate environmental extremes. Motivated by an interest in selecting cyanobacteria for applications in space, we launched rocks from a limestone cliff in Beer, Devon, United Kingdom, containing an epilithic and endolithic rock-dwelling community of cyanobacteria into low Earth orbit (LEO) at a height of approximately 300 kilometers. The community was exposed for 10 days to isolate cyanobacteria that can survive exposure to the extreme radiation and desiccating conditions associated with space. Culture-independent (16S rRNA) and culture-dependent methods showed that the cyanobacterial community was composed of Pleurocapsales, Oscillatoriales, and Chroococcales. A single cyanobacterium, a previously uncharacterized extremophile, was isolated after exposure to LEO. We were able to isolate the cyanobacterium from the limestone cliff after exposing the rock-dwelling community to desiccation and vacuum (0.7 × 10−3 kPa) in the laboratory. The ability of the organism to survive the conditions in space may be linked to the formation of dense colonies. These experiments show how extreme environmental conditions, including space, can be used to select for novel microorganisms. Furthermore, it improves our knowledge of environmental tolerances of extremophilic rock-dwelling cyanobacteria.
PMCID: PMC2849240  PMID: 20154120
5.  The evolution of inorganic carbon concentrating mechanisms in photosynthesis 
Inorganic carbon concentrating mechanisms (CCMs) catalyse the accumulation of CO2 around rubisco in all cyanobacteria, most algae and aquatic plants and in C4 and crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) vascular plants. CCMs are polyphyletic (more than one evolutionary origin) and involve active transport of HCO3−, CO2 and/or H+, or an energized biochemical mechanism as in C4 and CAM plants. While the CCM in almost all C4 plants and many CAM plants is constitutive, many CCMs show acclimatory responses to variations in the supply of not only CO2 but also photosynthetically active radiation, nitrogen, phosphorus and iron. The evolution of CCMs is generally considered in the context of decreased CO2 availability, with only a secondary role for increasing O2. However, the earliest CCMs may have evolved in oxygenic cyanobacteria before the atmosphere became oxygenated in stromatolites with diffusion barriers around the cells related to UV screening. This would decrease CO2 availability to cells and increase the O2 concentration within them, inhibiting rubisco and generating reactive oxygen species, including O3.
PMCID: PMC2606764  PMID: 18487130
alga; cyanobacteria; crassulacean acid metabolism; C4 photosynthesis; embryophytes; stromatolites
6.  Implications of a 3.472–3.333 Gyr-old subaerial microbial mat from the Barberton greenstone belt, South Africa for the UV environmental conditions on the early Earth 
Modelling suggests that the UV radiation environment of the early Earth, with DNA weighted irradiances of about three orders of magnitude greater than those at present, was hostile to life forms at the surface, unless they lived in specific protected habitats. However, we present empirical evidence that challenges this commonly held view. We describe a well-developed microbial mat that formed on the surface of volcanic littoral sediments in an evaporitic environment in a 3.5–3.3 Ga-old formation from the Barberton greenstone belt. Using a multiscale, multidisciplinary approach designed to strongly test the biogenicity of potential microbial structures, we show that the mat was constructed under flowing water by 0.25 μm filaments that produced copious quantities of extracellular polymeric substances, representing probably anoxygenic photosynthesizers. Associated with the mat is a small colony of rods–vibroids that probably represent sulphur-reducing bacteria. An embedded suite of evaporite minerals and desiccation cracks in the surface of the mat demonstrates that it was periodically exposed to the air in an evaporitic environment. We conclude that DNA-damaging UV radiation fluxes at the surface of the Earth at this period must either have been low (absorbed by CO2, H2O, a thin organic haze from photo-dissociated CH4, or SO2 from volcanic outgassing; scattered by volcanic, and periodically, meteorite dust, as well as by the upper layers of the microbial mat) and/or that the micro-organisms exhibited efficient gene repair/survival strategies.
PMCID: PMC1664690  PMID: 17008224
Early Mid Archaean; Barberton; microfossils; littoral zone; UV environment
7.  The origin and emergence of life under impact bombardment 
Craters formed by asteroids and comets offer a number of possibilities as sites for prebiotic chemistry, and they invite a literal application of Darwin's ‘warm little pond’. Some of these attributes, such as prolonged circulation of heated water, are found in deep-ocean hydrothermal vent systems, previously proposed as sites for prebiotic chemistry. However, impact craters host important characteristics in a single location, which include the formation of diverse metal sulphides, clays and zeolites as secondary hydrothermal minerals (which can act as templates or catalysts for prebiotic syntheses), fracturing of rock during impact (creating a large surface area for reactions), the delivery of iron in the case of the impact of iron-containing meteorites (which might itself act as a substrate for prebiotic reactions), diverse impact energies resulting in different rates of hydrothermal cooling and thus organic syntheses, and the indiscriminate nature of impacts into every available lithology—generating large numbers of ‘experiments’ in the origin of life. Following the evolution of life, craters provide cryptoendolithic and chasmoendolithic habitats, particularly in non-sedimentary lithologies, where limited pore space would otherwise restrict colonization. In impact melt sheets, shattered, mixed rocks ultimately provided diverse geochemical gradients, which in present-day craters support the growth of microbial communities.
PMCID: PMC1664688  PMID: 17008223
organics; colonization; thermophiles; asteroid; crater
9.  Antarctic Genomics 
With the development of genomic science and its battery of technologies, polar biology stands on the threshold of a revolution, one that will enable the investigation of important questions of unprecedented scope and with extraordinary depth and precision. The exotic organisms of polar ecosystems are ideal candidates for genomic analysis. Through such analyses, it will be possible to learn not only the novel features that enable polar organisms to survive, and indeed thrive, in their extreme environments, but also fundamental biological principles that are common to most, if not all, organisms. This article aims to review recent developments in Antarctic genomics and to demonstrate the global context of such studies.
PMCID: PMC2447445  PMID: 18629155

Results 1-9 (9)