Friday, April 25, 2014

Another Project Complete!

Some of our regular readers may remember our post on cell desiccation a few years back. Well, we are happy to say that we have finished the experiment and our results are almost reached a publishable state. We thought we'd just give you a little sneak peak of our findings here first.

So, first things first. The McMurdo dry valleys SUCK to live in. They are cold, dry, lack shade, lack food, and are overall a hard place to not die.
Much like a blender in this regard. 

Yet these valleys are full of organisms that are very distinctly not dead.

These not dead fungi are the subject of our research. Specifically, we are studying how long they can survive being completely dried out. Why? Well we've talked in the past about the potential usefulness of desiccation resistance in bioengineering and providing evidence for lithopanspermia (CLICK HERE). Those fields of study, while interesting, are not what we are focusing on. Our focus is to look at...

The working title of our paper.
So what do we mean by this? Well, in order to survive in an area an organism needs to be adapted to it. For instance, a fish can't live on land because it doesn't have the equipment necessary for it (legs, lungs, etc).
Summarized quite nicely here by Spongebob.

For this same reason you will often not find animals like cows living in the middle of the dessert; they don't have the ability to gather enough water, or retain the water they have.

However, the piece that is often overlooked is that the opposite is true too. Organisms that are adapted for a harsh environment often have a lot of difficulty surviving in a not harsh environment. This is why you don't see cacti growing in the middle of fields. The parts of them that allow them to go for a long time without water use up a lot of energy and cause them to grow slowly. Grass, which grows quickly but can be killed fairly easily, quickly soaks up all the resources and leaves none for the cactus, causing it to starve. This process of organisms fighting over resources is called Competition.
Those poor cacti.

There are many different organisms in the Dry Valleys, but not all of them are found in the same areas. Some areas are full of one species, but have almost none of another. In other areas, this trend could be reversed.

The Dry Valleys are dry, but not uniformly so. Some areas are outrageously dry and have almost no water, other areas can be surprisingly moist for large portions of the year.

We were curious to see how available water effected where organisms could be found.  If we found that organisms that are very tolerant to drying out live in only dry areas, while organisms that are not tolerant to drying out live in not dry areas, we can conclude that the level of water strongly effects where these organisms decide to live. In our experiment we dried out fungi from different parts of the dry valleys and then checked how many survived. Here is an abbreviated version of what we found.

This graph shows how many individuals survived after spending various amounts of time dried out. Some organisms did just fine and had almost no deaths (the green line). Other organisms had a lot of deaths at the very beginning of the experiment, but had their death rate slow down as the experiment went on (orange line). The blue line on this graph represents an organism that is not found in the Antarctic and should have absolutely no tolerance for desiccation. As expected, this organism died off almost immediately.

So, the data above shows that some organisms survive drying out better than others. By doing a bit of research we found that the organisms that survived desiccation are the same ones that are often found in the very dry areas of the Dry Valleys. However, we also found that these organisms were not restricted to these areas, meaning we could find them in areas that were very dry, and in some areas that were very wet.

So what does all this mean? Well, we know that all the fungi in the Dry Valleys (or at least the fungi we tested) have at least some desiccation tolerance. We know this because all the Antarctic fungus survived longer than a species that was not from the Antarctic. Next, we know that desiccation partially, but not completely, controls where an organism can live. Organisms with less tolerance can't survive as well in dry areas, but organisms that do withstand a lack of water do just fine in wet areas. Since we now know that desiccation does not completely control where an organism lives, we know that other factors must also have some control on them. These factors are probably the other stresses like cold, and high UV radiation, and food availability.

Whew, that was a bit thick. Thanks for reading!

By Ben Segee

Friday, February 21, 2014

Antarctic Vimeo!

Recently McMurdo Station received some unusually high water levels, turing parts of the station into what is likely to be the least pleasant waterfront property on the Earth. Photographer Deven Stross was kind enough to document the whole thing.


Deven Stross has posted many entertaining, informative, and beautiful videos about Antarctica. If you want to see more, you can visit his Vimeo page by clicking HERE!

by Ben Segee

Friday, January 24, 2014

Scientists face frozen world in Antarctica

 Is an article by  Deborah Sullivan Brennan, it can be found HERE. The article contains some interesting facts about the preparation of going to Antarctica and highlights some of the importance of the research in this area.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Exploring the Rock Bottom of the Food Web Beneath Antarctic Ice

Ice caves on the Mt. Erebus Volcano, frozen lakes in the Dry Valleys and the ice covered McMurdo Sound offer diverse and extremely cold environments in which highly adapted microbial communities use chemical energy from rocks and volcanic gases to build new organic compounds. Join Hubert Staudigel as he presents initial laboratory results and stunning images from the 2012/13 field expedition, including SCUBA diving under the ice and alpine exploration of ice caves.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Antarctic Diving

Not all of our samples are from Antarctic soils. Sometimes, we need to venture into places a bit less accessible, such as the bottom of the ocean.

Henry Kaiser is a Grammy award winning musician and has recorded dozens of albums. He has spent the last several years working in the Antarctic as a research diver, and was kind enough to make a brief movie of our 2012 season dives. Rest assured, it is worth watching.


by Ben Segee

Friday, June 7, 2013

What lies beneath the ice...

Antarctica, as you may or may not know, is actually more than just a large floating block of ice. Beneath all the glaciers, snow and ice is a continent of rock. Because the continent is covered in a massive amount of ice, we have had very limited knowledge as to what the continent underneath looks like.

Now, thanks to the hard work of the scientists at the British Antarctic Survey, all that is changing.

To see their full article CLICK HERE

Using a number of techniques including radio echo sounding, satellite readings, and seismic techniques, the British Antarctic Survey has been hard at work making Bedmap2, the most detailed map ever created of the Antarctic continent.

Antarctica without ice
(Courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey).

Already the survey has revealed some interesting results. For instance, the survey has revealed that the amount ice on the continent is actually 4.6% greater than what was originally estimated. The team has also found an area underneath Byrd Glacier that is 2,870 meters (9416 ft) below sea level, making it the world record holder for lowest point on a continental plate. 

In the teams press release, the studies co-lead author Dr. Hamish Pritchard says,

"The Bedmap2 project is about more than making a map of the landscape. The data we've put together on the height and thickness of the ice and the shape of the landscape below are fundamental to modelling the behaviour of the ice sheet in the future. This matters because in some places, ice along the edges of Antarctica is being lost rapidly to the sea, driving up sea level. Knowing how much the sea will rise is of global importance, and these maps are a step towards that goal."
For more information about the Bedmap2 projects, and some really cool videos of Antarctica without ice, CLICK HERE

By Ben Segee

Friday, May 31, 2013

Penguin Preperation for OutReach 2013

Starting the summer off by getting ready for OutReach 2013,  by preparing some Antarctic animal life samples. OutReach is a program providing outreach opportunities ranging from high school internships to work-study positions and to teacher workshops. More information about the Outreach program and Current OutReach programs can be found here. Enjoy The pictures

Picture 1. Penguin head close up

Picture 2. Penguin Eggs

Picture 3. Penguin Feathers

Picture 4. Penguin Feet and Flippers (yes they`re called flippers)

Picture 5. Penguin Heads

Picture 5. Skua Sample