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Discovery DiscoveryFebruary 2000

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IN FOCUS by Mark Young

Life flourishes on our planet in an incredibly wide range of environments. Some of these environments may be similar to the harsh conditions that likely occurred on early Earth or that exist or have existed on other planets. Examples of extreme environments include those with high or low temperatures, high or low pH, low water potential, high salt, high pressure, high radiation or low oxygen.

Scientists are driven by the desire to understand organisms living in environments that are prohibitive to other life forms. Such knowledge provides the basis for detecting and understanding life forms that may exist elsewhere in our solar system and for developing useful new products and processes here on Earth.

MSU's Thermal Biology Institute (TBI), in conjunction with the NASA Astrobiology Program and the MSU Office of the Vice President for Research, will host a national workshop March 6-7, 2000, at the 320 Ranch in Gallatin Canyon. This "Life in Extreme Environments" workshop will bring together policy-makers from NASA and the National Science Foundation and nationally recognized scientists who study these unique organisms.

The scientists will present their views on what they think should be the focus of future research activity in this field. MSU faculty who have been working with extremophiles for a significant portion of their careers, and who will make presentations, include Dave Ward from Land Resources & Environmental Sciences and John Priscu from Biology.

Myself and Tim McDermott, co-directors of the TBI, are organizing the workshop and expect this small gathering will generate exciting cross-disciplinary discussions on a range of topics. These topics could include the development of instrumentation and technologies that would enable remote sampling and sensing; expanding the discovery about diversity, ecology and physiological capabilities of extremophiles; and an increased knowledge about the geological and evolutionary history of microbes that inhabit the extreme environments on Earth.

NASA, one of the several funding agencies supporting TBI research, will use this forum to help guide the formulation of a future research initiative in this area. The discussions may also catalyze collaborations with TBI faculty who are working on topics that overlap with the workshop participants.

If you have questions or wish to participate, please contact me or Jane Jessell in the TBI at 994-7039.

Mark Young is the director of the Thermal Biology Institute and can be reached at 994-7039 or by e-mail at myoung@montana.edu.

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