We study permafrost as a model for exobiology. Exobiology is the study of the orgin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe. Many of the planets, moons, comets, and asteroids in our solar system are cryogenic. If life is found beyond Earth there is a strong possibility it will be in a cryogenic system. By understanding how life adapts to the stresses associated with frozen conditions over geological time, we will gain insight into how life elsewhere in the universe, if it exists, adapts and survives.
Permafrost soils contain approximately 25-50% of the total global soil carbon pool, nearly double the atmospheric carbon reservoir. The carbon is largely protected from microbial decomposition by frozen conditions, but climate change is threating to induce large-scale permafrost thaw exposing it to degradation. The resulting production of globally significant quantities greenhouse gasses (GHGs)—including CO2, CH4, and N2O—produce a positive feedback loop amplifying the effects of global warming. We seek to determine how microbial communities respond to permafrost thaw and to link microbial processes to carbon transformation and greenhouse gas emissions.
Other ongoing research in the lab includes antibiotic resistance in microbial communities, agriculturally relevant prairie soils in the midwestern United States, and rhizosphere communities in different grape vine varieties.