Introduction

Extremophilic microorganisms offer an ideal way to teach fundamental concepts of microbiology, molecular genetics, and astrobiology. We are using Halobacterium NRC-1, a salt-loving member of the Domain Archaea, for extreme microbiology and astrobiology education. Both inquiry-based educational kits for the classroom and a companion genomic database serve as resources for students and teachers. In addition, an electronic tutor illustrating concept of life in an extreme environment is also available. These resources are ideal for understanding principles of extreme microbiology and the new field of astrobiology. Students are encouraged to ask questions like 'What is life?', 'Is there life elsewhere in the universe?', and 'What are the limits to life and habitability?'.

Our educational appraoch is through exploration of the extremely halophilic microbe Halobacterium NRC-1 which has been extensively studied in our laboratory for many years. Its remarkable ability to survive under multiple extreme conditions makes it ideal as a teaching vehicle for both basic microbiology and expansive questions in astrobiology. Moreover, the nearly saturating concentration of salts makes the growth medium safer for teaching. The microbe is colorful, easy to culture, grows well at standard temperatures, and is widely distributed in nature. This organism is genetically tractable and its genome has been completely sequenced. It also has prectical uses in biotechnology and medicine.

DasSarma Lab Journal Covers

Covers highlighting Haloarchaeal research: see Making Microbiology Manageable for more.

We thank NASA for providing support through a grant to the DasSarma laboratory.