Pushing the limits: Life in extreme deserts
Environment Centre Wales, Bangor University
I spent four years at the University of Nottingham studying for my Zoology MSci, and while I was there I dabbled in a lot of different research. In the summer of 2016 I assisted in research in the Tewari Lab, looking at cyclin in the rodent malaria parasite Plasmodium berghei, with a Wellcome Trust studentship. The following year I worked on my third year project with Jan Bradley’s team in the rodent parasite Syphacia which resulted in the characterisation and localisation of S. frederici in the British Isles and a paper published in Parasitology. That summer I embarked on a trip to Peru, with an International Work Experience grant, to aid in the research of jaguar densities in human-populated areas of the Amazon rainforest with the conservation charity Hoja Neuva. And finally in 2018 I finished my master’s dissertation looking at the effects of the extreme environment in the Persian Gulf on the growth rates of the coral reef fish Pomacanthus maculosus, with which I graduated first class.
While I have topic-hopped a lot in my undergrad, I have discovered an unquenchable curiosity and I have been encouraged by my supervisors over the years to reach for the stars in my ambitions. I took that quite literally and now I study astrobiology at Bangor University.
Research project: Life at the extreme: defining the biological water limits for metabolic activity.
My PhD project is looking at the water limits of life by finding microbial life in extremely arid environments around the globe and determining their interactions with that environment. By analysing the hydrological properties of the soils sampled from deserts, especially gypsiferous soils, and the subsequent microbial activity I hope to redefine the absolute limits to life. To do this I will utilise techniques such as water sorption anaylsis, radio-isotope tracing and imaging, and metagenomics. Not only will this give us a better understanding of the life on our own planet, it can also be applied in our searches for life on other planets, especially the gypsum-rich and highly arid Mars.