Faculty Speaker Series - Fall 2014

Microbial Heroics in Antarctica

Dr. Anitori explores some rarely seen "extremophiles," microbes that have adapted to survive in places where most living things could not—in this case, the remote and lightless ice caves in an Antarctic volcano. Dr. Anitori recounts highlights from his 2010 research expedition to Mt. Erebus, the second-highest volcano in Antarctica. Through photos and stories, he shares his experiences training to survive in sub-zero temperatures, as well as his initial findings about the microbes living inside Mt. Erebus's caves—which could have implications for life in even more difficult-to-research regions, like the deep sea, areas far below the earth's crust, or even other planets.

"We think these ice caves are models for environments without light," says Dr. Anitori. "Most life on earth depends on sunlight."

Instead, these microbes survive on nutrients within the very rock itself—for example, digesting manganese and iron the way other organisms digest biological material. This discovery could, in turn, provide valuable insights into a little-understood aspect of Earth's ecology.

About Dr. Roberto Anitori

Dr. Roberto AnitoriDr. Roberto Anitori has spent many years studying extremophiles and other microbes. After earning both his bachelor's and doctoral degrees in Molecular Biology and Microbiology from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, he worked in research labs at Macquarie University in Sydney and at Oregon Health and Science University. In addition to his work in Antarctica, he has researched extremophiles in other volcanoes, deep-sea vents, underground water tables, deserts, and radioactive hot springs; he wrote the first published description of microbial life in the radioactive Paralana hot spring of Australia. He has been invited to lecture by organizations including the Australian Society for Microbiology, the Geological Society of Australia, and NASA. In 2011, he received the Antarctica Service Medal from the National Science Foundation. Dr. Anitori began teaching microbiology at Clark in 2008 and received a tenure-track faculty appointment in 2013. He is the editor of the book Extremophiles: Microbiology and Biotechnology (2012, Horizon Press).