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The Uzon Caldera (Kamchatka Peninsula) and its vicinity have been chosen as the work site for an international microbial and biogeochemical research program. Kamchatka, with its over 30 active volcanoes, is rightly called a land in the making. The unique features of this region include its pristine condition, a variety of geothermal features, many of which differ from those in Yellowstone National Park (USA), and experimental access to a wide variety of recently formed geothermal features. The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of this project will allow us to address long term goals and answer integrated research questions in geomicrobiology, that is, to understand and correlate geochemical and microbial interactions in hydrothermal systems. These systems can be used as models for early life on earth and for potential extraterrestrial biological systems.

The primary goal of the project is the characterization of new taxa of bacteria and archaea, with geochemical characterization, especially of the gas emissions, of the selected springs as an aid in designing isolation strategies. Our objectives for this four year project focus on establishing the microbial diversity framework for a few selected sites. This includes characterization of their microbial communities over space and time through molecular,culture, visual, and spectroscopic approaches.

The second goal is to establish fluxes and pathways of carbon metabolism through the elucidated microbial communities. We hypothesize that in the microbial community of the hot springs a carbon flux exists from geothermal CO to the organoheterotrophic community through shuttling of reduced and oxidized metabolites creating a substrate->product->substrate microbial food chain. To test this hypothesis we will quantify the carbon reservoirs available to microbes in the gasses and fluids (CO2, CO, CH4, DIC, DOC, TOC), quantifying rates of key processes (such as CO oxidation and consumption, methanogenesis, sulfate reduction), establishing a biodiversity “index” using 16S rDNA sequence profiles, and isolating / characterizing novel microorganisms of known and yet unknown physiology. Using compound specific stable and radioactive isotopic studies, non destructive in situ Raman spectroscopy analysis, and FISH hybridization in combination with electron microscopy will reveal the abundance, diversity, distribution, and metabolic activity of organisms in the extremely thermophilic communities, and identify the key microbial players.

Our research builds on the long term research history of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Volcanology in Petropavlovsk-kamchatkii (Kamchatka) which has documented unique geochemical / mineralogical processes at these sites, and the isolation of novel thermophilic microorganisms by our Russian colleagues from the RAS-Institute in Moscow.

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The Kamchatka Microbial Observatory is funded by the National Science Foundation

Page last modified on April 26, 2010, at 02:41 PM

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