Introduction

Extremophilic microorganisms offer an ideal way to teach fundamental concepts of microbiology, molecular genetics, and astrobiology. We have developed Halobacterium NRC-1, a salt-loving member of the Domain Archaea, which we use as a model organism for research in our laboratory, for extreme microbiology, and astrobiology education. Both inquiry-based educational kits for the classroom, The Model Microbe, and a companion genomic database, HaloWeb, serve as resources for students and teachers. In addition, MolGenT, an electronic tutor illustrating concepts of life on Earth, is available. These resources are ideal for understanding principles of extreme microbiology, the new field of astrobiology, and is suitable for students of all ages.

DasSarma Lab Journal Covers

Covers highlighting Haloarchaeal research from our laboratory: See Making Microbiology Manageable for details.

Our six hands-on exercises available through Carolina Biological Supply Co. are called Microbiology I, Microbiology II, Life in Extreme Environments, Extremely Easy DNA, Genotype-Phenotype Connection, and Antibiotics in Action. In addition to the programmed exercises, students can explore research questions, many of which are currently engaging scientists in various fields, from microbiology to astrobiology. Students are encouraged to ask outstanding questions like 'How did life originate on Earth?,' 'What conditions limit life on Earth?,' and 'Is there life elsewhere in the universe?.' The exercises have been recognized and certified by the AP Board.

All of our exercises are based on the extremely halophilic microbe Halobacterium NRC-1, which has the remarkable ability to survive under multiple extreme conditions. Moreover, the nearly saturating concentration of salts makes its growth medium safer by inhibiting most harmful contaminants. The microbe is also colorful, easy to culture, grows well at standard temperatures, and is widely distributed in nature. It is also genetically tractable and its genome has been completely sequenced. It also has practical uses in biotechnology and medicine.

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