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2009 Annual Science Report

VPL at University of Washington Reporting  |  JUL 2008 – AUG 2009

Stromatolites in the Desert: Analogs to Other Worlds

Project Summary

Cuatro Cienegas Basin, a desert oasis in the Chihuahua desert of central Mexico, provides a proxy for an earlier time in Earth’s history when microbes dominated the scenery. The basin hosts active, growing stomatolites, communities of microbes that are covered in carbonates, principally through the action of metabolic processes within the community. Researchers from several NAI teams are actively researching and creating experimental procedures to understand small scale and large scale evolution within these communities, using tools from biology, geology, and astronomy.

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Siefert conducted field experiments, isolating organisms and investigating water sources and possible contamination at field sites during the first quarter of the reporting period. This was coordinated with the Arizona State University team and considerable work was done at this meeting on fostering graduate student researchers and postdoctoral research Eric Boyd, to coordinate research efforts between the teams. Siefert subsequently has been analyzing data and consideration of upcoming experiments with Dr. Boyd. Unfortunately two additional trips that she planned, one with Dr. Pan Conrad and one with Dr. Abigail Allwood, were canceled at the last minute by those collaborators due to unforeseen personal issues. Siefert has isolated DNA from key organisms and they are currently being submitted to commercial sequencing facilities and should be available in January 2010.

To provide additional funds to enable extensive sequencing for the microbial constituency responsible for the microbialites at Cuatro CiƩnegas, Siefert and collaborators were successful in their application for the Joint Genome Sequencing program to provide a more extensive coverage of the baseline metagenome and metatranscriptome of the five layers in the Rios Mesquites microbialites. See figure. Protocols and samples have been prepared and frozen and will be submitted to JGI at the beginning of 2010. Siefert was successful in acquiring a DDF proposal that will allow for sequencing of the metatranscriptome of these five layers using the VAL at UWashington.
after exposure to elevated CO2 and phosphorus regimes. This provides a window into the stoichiometry needs of the community when producing carbonate structures and the affect on the community as adaptive pressure are applied.

Rios Mesquites oncolite, Cuatro Cienegas, Coahuila, Mexico. Collected
August 09.

    Janet Siefert
    Project Investigator

    Ariel Anbar

    Pamela Conrad

    James Elser

    Peter Ward

    Eric Boyd

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere.

    Objective 4.2
    Production of complex life.

    Objective 5.2
    Co-evolution of microbial communities

    Objective 5.3
    Biochemical adaptation to extreme environments

    Objective 6.1
    Effects of environmental changes on microbial ecosystems

    Objective 6.2
    Adaptation and evolution of life beyond Earth