Microbial stress in rock habitats
Bryce, Casey Catherine
Micro-organisms are the most abundant and diverse form of life on Earth. Their ability to tolerate stress has enabled them to colonise many inhospitable environments. Microbial processes alter the chemistry of the environment which has left a lasting mark on the geological record. On the other hand, microbial life is heavily influenced by environmental conditions. Indeed, the history of the Earth is shaped by the co-evolution of microbial and geological processes. This thesis explores how micro-organisms are influenced by their environment, with particular reference to microbial rock habitats. Rock habitats are an interesting system to understand the inter-relationship between microbial life and it's environment as they are relatively simple and very common. Rock-dwelling communities are also exposed to numerous stresses such as surface UV exposure, desiccation, temperature fluctuations, low nutrient availability or toxicity from elements leached from the rocks themselves. Three specific aspects of microbial stress in rock environments are investigated here: 1) The use of rocks as a shield from surface UV radiation stress, 2) The microbial response to chemical changes during water-rock interactions, 3) The effect of simultaneous limitation of more than one nutrient. The first uses exposure facilities aboard the International Space Station to provide empirical evidence that colonisation of the early land masses by phototrophs was not inhibited by high surface UV radiation. The latter studies use quantitative proteomics to investigate the cellular response of a heterotrophic bacterium to nutrient deficiency and element leaching, two common stresses in rock habitats. Together these results further our understanding of the relationship between micro-organisms and rocks, both today and over geological time.
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