Senior Research Scientist Dr. David Emerson discusses the search for new forms of microbial life and his undersea research on an unusual group of microbes that use iron as a food source. (8/18/2008)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 18, 2008
Contact: Tatiana Brailovskaya, Director of Communications, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences (207) 633-9633 email@example.com
WEST BOOTHBAY HARBOR, ME – Bigelow Laboratory’s August 26 Café Scientifique gathering “From the USS Monitor to Mars - Hunting for Novel Microbes” will feature a discussion by Senior Research Scientist Dr. David Emerson about the search for new forms of microbial life.
Emerson’s talk, from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. at The Opera House on Townsend Avenue in Boothbay Harbor, will focus on an unusual group of microbes that use iron as a food source. These microbes get the energy they need for growth by literally eating nails, or other sources of iron, such as the wreck of the Titanic. They may also have been responsible, ages ago, for deposition of huge iron deposits that are commercially mined today.
Emerson’s research has included investigation of ways to help stop the demise by iron-eating bacteria of the Civil War’s ironclad USS Monitor, exploration of undersea volcanoes and deep gold mines where these microbes flourish, and research in backyard wetlands where they are also common. One goal of his work has been to determine the clues that would help find such organisms on other planets. Mars, a planet with abundant iron minerals, is a particularly good place to look, for example.
Emerson and his research team combine field studies with laboratory work aimed at isolating novel bacteria that utilize iron; and then studying their taxonomy, morphology, physiology, and behavior. These microbes are not only unique in how they grow and where they fit into the tree of life, but also how they behave and the kinds of minerals they form. From the microscopic, to the macroscopic, to the planetary scales, they are fascinating group organisms.
A general microbiologist with an emphasis on geomicrobiology, Emerson grew up in Camden, Maine. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic, and a Ph.D. in Microbiology at Cornell University. His research on iron-oxidizing bacteria ranges from understanding the potential for these organisms to exist on other planets, to determining the role they may play in corrosion of steel, to analyzing their influence on other biogeochemical cycles that affect greenhouse gas emissions. Among his other interests is the culture and archival maintenance of the vast diversity of marine microbes.
Bigelow Laboratory’s Café Scientifique gatherings are organized as informal conversations about current scientific issues, research, exploration, and the latest news from experts in the field. The cafés are free, open to the public, and a cash bar is available. Bigelow scientists have been hosting talks with the general public since the beginning of the Laboratory’s residence on the Maine coast in 1974. The Café Scientifique movement itself began in 1998 in England, and has spread quickly throughout Europe and the United States (www.cafescientifique.org). There are over 150 science cafés organized over 40 countries that host regular get-togethers to bring science into our conversations and our culture.
The Laboratory (www.bigelow.org) is a center for global ocean discovery and home to ocean scientists from all over the world. Its primary research focus is on the foundation of biological productivity in the world’s oceans and the processes that drive the interactions between ocean ecosystems and global environmental conditions. A private, non-profit research institution, Bigelow Laboratory is supported by federal research grants and private funds. Bigelow researchers are committed to expanding our knowledge of ocean systems and sharing their findings with the scientific community and the general public.
Photo: Dr. Emerson collecting samples from the recovered gun turret of the USS Monitor.