GOLF 4-3-9 Antarctica Expedition 2008
In the broadest sense, G-439 project (spelled “golf four-three-nine”) aims at improving our understanding of the “rock bottom” of the food chain. How can microbes make organic carbon only by using inorganic components? Which microbes are the main players in utilizing inorganic carbon and chemical energy and nutrients from rocks and soils that are very poor in organic matter?
Antarctica is a very harsh continent with very little life. Food webs have to be very “creative” to adjust to conditions that have been compared to life on other planets or life during the early Earth. We are using these special conditions to explore which microbes are the most successful at using nutrients and energy from volcanic rocks. These types of rocks have been implicated as a potential host for a substantial biomass on Earth and possibly provides a substrate for the evolution of early life.
To pursue these goals, we set out bacterial traps that include volcanic glass as “bait”. Glass is a common geological material that appears to be particularly attractive for the growth of a wide range of microbes in other settings on Earth (for an example, visit the website of the Fe-oxidizing Microbial Observatory). We will use two different types of substrates, one existing of polished surfaces to allow study of biocorrosion and biofilm formation, and one existing of rock powders from which we can isolate microbes. Our study will include prokayotes (e.g. bacteria) and micro-eukaryotes (fungi, yeasts) to get a first-order understanding of the complete food web involved in the utilization of volcanic rocks.
Our experiments will focus on the extreme environments of the McMurdo area around Ross Island, Antarctica. These will include some ancient lava flows and lakes in the Dry Valleys area (Taylor Valley), some lava flows in the Royal Society Range (Walcott Glacier), and a range of locations on Mount Erebus, an active volcano with a lava lake at its summit. Much of our work this year will be focused on exploration of ideal study sites and the deployment of our bio-experiments. Future returns in 2010 and 2012 will allow us to sample the progress of our experiments after two and four years respectively. Because of the longevity of our experiments we expect that most of the actual results from our work will not be known until several years in the future.
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