Our lab is participating in a deep-sea expedition to the Lost City hydrothermal field in September 2018. Check out our new website for the expedition: lostcity.biology.utah.edu
Together with our collaborator Susan Lang at the University of South Carolina, we have published a new paper on the use of deep carbon by microbes at the Lost City Hydrothermal Field. This study addressed the question: how much of the carbon formed deep in the Earth's interior is fueling microbial activity in the Lost City chimneys, and which microbes are using that carbon? The surprising answer is that methanogenic archaea are unable to use the deeply-sourced carbon and depend on other organisms, such as sulfate-reducing bacteria, to metabolize the deep carbon and convert it into other carbon compounds. We will continue pursue this story with our upcoming expedition to the Lost City in September 2018.
Postdoctoral Researcher, Katrina Twing, participated in a Chief-Scientist Training Cruise focusing on the use of Deep Submergence Vehicles in July onboard the R/V Atlantis. In addition to learning about leading oceanographic research expeditions and the latest uses of ship-to-shore communications (also known as telepresence), Katrina got the opportunity to dive in the HOV Alvin. During her dive, she tested out a large-volume in situ sampling device our group is helping develop for use on our future expedition to sample the Lost City Hydrothermal Field. More details about the sampling device and her experience with Alvin can be found at https://vimeo.com/191864900.
The Brazelton Lab has teamed up with U of U geologist Brenda Bowen and Westminster College microbiologist Betsy Kleba in an interdisciplinary study of salt crust formation on the Bonneville Salt Flats. In September 2016, Julia and Emily collected samples from the upper crust of the Salt Flats. These samples are being used for enriched carbon incubation experiments as well as for one of the first metagenomic studies of this unique environment.
Several members of the lab and collaborators are co-authors on a new open-access paper in PeerJ that reports metagenomic data from serpentinite springs at the Voltri Massif in northern Italy. The springs are ultra-basic (pH 12) and have extremely low biomass. One of the springs is nearly sterile, so we spent 4 days on site filtering >500 L of water, from which we were able to recover only 50 nanograms of pure DNA for sequencing. The low biomass is probably a result of the extreme conditions created by susburface serpentinization reactions, which are expected to have been prevalent on the early Earth, Mars, and other planetary bodies. Read more here.
The results in this new paper include identifications of specific archaeal and bacterial species that are enriched in the pH 12 springs, evidence that some of them are capable of methane production or methane consumption, and some initial functional predictions from the metagenomic assemblies. Future studies by the lab will integrate these results with data from additional serpentinite springs around the world in order to gain a broader understanding of the relationships between serpentinization and life.
Graduate student Julia McGonigle has just completed the 2016 STEM Ambassador program. This program is designed to train graduate students and scientists how to design and implement successful outreach programs aimed to connect with science inattentive audiences. These are audiences who may not already think about science in their lives or have positive experiences with science or might not have the same access to science as other people due to age or disability issues. The program encourages thinking about outreach events beyond typical school or museum lectures where audiences typically seek out or are already exposed to science. As part of the program, ambassadors are expected to design and implement an outreach event. For Julia, this event combined her love of food and microbiology in a Harmon's cooking class on fermentation. The cooking class taught participants how to prepare kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha. Each of these foods is processed with a community of microorganisms. She explained the science and microbial activity behind this ancient food preservation technique and brought in microscopes for participants to view microbes living in kimchi the cook had previously prepared.
The Brazelton Lab has begun work to identify potential changes in microbial populations in the Great Salt Lake. For decades, the lake was divided into two bodies of water – the north and south ‘arms’ – by a railroad causeway. Cut off from freshwater input, the salinity of the north arm steadily increased, driving chemical and biological differences between the two arms. On December 1st, 2016, the causeway was breached allowing the north and south arms to mix. Prior to the breach, Emily Dart from the Brazelton Lab in collaboration with Bill Johnson and the United States Geological Survey took baseline samples from the south arm. Samples were taken shortly after the breach and will continue to be collected throughout 2017. We plan to study how the microbial communities in the south arm are affected by the influx of water and brine from the north arm of the lake.
Graduate students Shahrzad Motamedi and Julia McGonigle attended AbGradCon '16 from July 24th -27th hosted by the University of Colorado-Boulder. AbGradCon is an entirely graduate and postdoc organized conference where conference attendees come together and share their interdisciplinary work in the fields of Geology, Astronomy, Computer Science, Chemistry, and Biology. The conference is a great opportunity to network and build connections between early career scientists in the field of Astrobiology. Talks were interspersed with poster sessions for two days, followed by an educational field trip to Bear Creek Lake State Park where conference attendees learned about local geology and archeology as they looked at various rock formations and fossils. Shahrzad presented a poster titled Exploration of Novel Subsurface Microbial Communities Fueled by Mantle Rocks. Julia presented a poster titled Development of Cell Extraction Techniques for Single-cell Analyses of the Dense Biofilms Inhabiting Lost City Chimneys. Both Shahrzad and Julia will be on the organizing committee for AbGradCon 2017 which will take place in Charlottesville, Virginia. More information about AbGradCon can be found here.
Dr. Brazelton, graduate student Chris Thornton, and several collaborators from IODP Expedition 357 were in Kochi, Japan in February to cut, crush, and grind frozen rock samples collected from the subseafloor near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Rock samples were first cut with a diamond-coated saw to remove potentially contaminated exterior portions of the rocks by Nan Xiao of the Kochi Core Center. Then each sample was crushed, homogenized, ground into a powder, and then subsampled for a long list of multidisciplinary laboratory measurements to be conducted in the months and years ahead by members of the IODP Expedtion 357 scientific party. Minimizing the potential for contamination is always a priority when handling these samples, so the excellent, microbiologically-clean facilities at the Kochi Core Center were critical for this work. Now begins the hard work of analyzing these samples in the laboratory. In the next few months, our lab will attempt to extract, purify, and sequence environmental DNA from these one-of-a-kind samples from the subseafloor.
Cutting of frozen rock at Kochi Core Center
Grinding rock sample into a powder for subsampling
Katrina Twing, a new postdoctoral researcher in the lab, is aboard the RRS James Cook as part of an expedition to explore an underwater mountain in the Atlantic Ocean with seabed rock drills. The Brazelton lab will be involved with sequencing DNA from the microbial communities that inhabit the rocks and water collected during the expedition. For more, check out this article from the BBC and the expedition's web page.
Dr. Brazelton gave a presentation on serpentinite-hosted microbial ecosystems at the Deep Life Community Meeting and Deep Life Scientific Steering Committee Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal on Thursday May 7th. His presentation can be found on figshare.
The Deep Carbon Observatory is an interdisciplinary global research program that aims to improve understanding of Earth's carbon. The Deep Life Community is one of four Communities that aims to explore a variety of factors relating to subsurface life, including the interaction between subsurface life and the global carbon cycle.
Several members of the Brazelton Lab - Julia, Sharhzad, and Chris - will be presenting at AbSciCon2015 in Chicago this June. They will be presenting posters during Poster Session I on Wednesday June 17th under the topic/category "Extreme Earth: Omics Research on Microbial Communities, their Chemistries, and What It Means for Life in the Solar System". The abstracts can be found here.
AbSciCon is an international, multidisciplinary conference about various aspects of astrobiology. This year's topic is “Habitability, Habitable Worlds, and Life” and runs from June 15th to June 17th at the Hilton Chicago. To learn more about AbSciCon2015 visit their Home page or Purpose and Scope page.
The Brazelton lab belongs to the "Rock-Powered Life" Team, a new member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The Rock-Powered Life team is headquartered at the University of Colorado-Boulder and led by Alexis Templeton.