Montana State University

MSU researcher invited to take part in Darwin commemoration

November 6, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


John Priscu explains his Antarctic research during a recent open house for the new SubZero Science and Engineering Research Facility at Montana State University. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
msunews@montana.edu
BOZEMAN -- A polar scientist at Montana State University has been asked to participate in a National Science Foundation project commemorating Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's book, "On the Origin of Species."

John Priscu, an MSU ecologist who has worked in Antarctica for 25 years, was invited to write a 500-word essay on how Darwin's explanation of the origins of life and the diversity of species affected polar science, said Bobbie Mixon Jr., in NSF's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.

Priscu's essay and a video interview with him will be posted Feb. 12 on the NSF Website, Mixon said. Darwin was born Feb. 12, 1809 and published "On the Origin of Species" Nov. 24, 1859.

Priscu, in his essay, said that recent discoveries of cold-loving microbes living in solid ice have extended the known boundaries of life on Earth and provided the basis for new theories on the origin and evolution of organisms on this planet.

"Data obtained over the past 10 years have shown that bacteria inhabit polar ice sheets as well as temperate glaciers, and contribute significantly to global bacterial carbon reservoirs," Priscu wrote.

He added that Darwin introduced the idea of life starting in a "warm little pond," but the pond "may in fact be a water system entombed in ice. The earth has been covered in ice much more than not during its evolution and the primordial soup of organic molecules would be a lot more stable in low temperatures, relative than, say, a hot spring."

Scientists need to do more research to determine whether life originated in hot or cold environments, but it is highly probable that cold environments acted as a refuge for life during major glaciations, Priscu said.

Mixon said Priscu's essay and interview will remain on the NSF Website until about June. They will then be archived and replaced with another set of essays and interviews. The NSF invited scientists from five disciplines to participate in the Darwin project. Besides polar sciences, those fields are anthropology, astronomy, biology and the geosciences.

The NSF website is located at http://nsf.gov/

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu