Plenary and Invited Speakers
The Biogeosphere Above and Below our Feet: Towards a Better Understanding of Sustainability in the Environment, Now and in the Future
Stay tuned to this page because, as speakers confirm, we will continue to add their information here.
Dr. Kurt Konhauser
Dr. Kurt Konhauser is a Professor of Geobiology at the University of Alberta. His research answers critical questions about the co-evolution of life and Earth’s surface environments throughout geologic history. Some of the highlights include understanding the mechanisms underpinning the adsorption of metals to bacteria and biomineral formation to using modern biogeochemical cycling to infer the timing of our planet’s oxygenation. Through his active promotion of the field via Editor in Chief of the journal Geobiology, author of the textbook Introduction to Geomicrobiology and founder of the Geobiology Society, it has matured into a prolific research frontier.
Kurt's Plenary Talk will open the Joint Symposium Sunday evening. He will take us on a journey of the origins of cyanobacteria, the history of oxygen on Earth, and the evolution of aerobic respiration that affects oxidative weathering and nutrient transport to the oceans where primary production increases. Recognizing these feedback processes is critical to understanding how the biogeosphere above and below our feet has changed through time.
Dr. Denise M. Akob
Linking Microbial Diversity to Environmental Health in Ecosystems Impacted by Energy Development
Dr. Denise M. Akob is a Research Microbiologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who works at the interface between microbiology, biogeochemistry, and hydrogeology to address critical questions in environmental microbiology. Her research aims to understand interactions between microbes and their environment and understand the effects of anthropogenic contaminants on environmental health and water quality. She is an internationally recognized leader in the fields of applied and environmental microbiology specifically for her work on ecological responses to oil and gas (OG) development, contaminant bioremediation, microbe-metal interactions, and acetylenotrophy. Dr. Akob is the Chair of the American Society of Microbiology’s Council on Microbial Sciences, and serves on the Editorial Board of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, and ISME Communications. She is also the Chair of the 2025 Applied and Environmental Microbiology Gordon Research Conference.
Denise is honored to give a plenary talk at her first ISEB-ISSM meeting. She graciously accepted a late invitation to fill a gap in programming for the conference. Her talk will describe the effects of energy development and contaminant releases on environmental health, specifically to understand how microorganisms can be tracers of impacts or mitigate contaminants via biodegradation or mineral interactions.
Dr. Kirsten Küsel
Linkages Between the Terrestrial Surface and Subsurface Biogeosphere
Dr. Kirsten Küsel is a Professor of Aquatic Geomicrobiology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and was a founding director of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). Trained as a geoecologist who works at the interface of hydrology, geochemistry, and soil science, the bulk of her research is done at the interface of microbial ecology and hydrobiogeochemistry.
Kirsten's Plenary Talk will present a truly inspiring and cross-disciplinary look at the biogeosphere below our feet. Her work highlights the importance of surface inputs to modern groundwater and rock microbiomes based on a wide range of analytical field and laboratory approaches, including measuring in situ carbon fixation rates and meta-omics applications. Her findings uncover the ecological, metabolic, and trophic strategies that influence the formation, temporal dynamics, and adaptations of groundwater microbes through time.
Dr. William C. Ghiorse
A Brief History of Subsurface Microbiology and Biogeochemistry
Dr. William "Bill" Ghiorse is a pioneer in deep subsurface and groundwater microbiology. He is currently Professor Emeritus in the Department of Microbiology at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (USA). He has been the Editor-in-Chief of Geomicrobiology Journal since 1995. Bill's main research focus has been on the geomicrobiology and biogeochemistry of manganese-oxidizing bacteria, but throughout his career, he has also been involved in many projects that lead to the development and application of different sampling methods, enumeration and quantitative approaches, and molecular genetics tools used today in microbial ecology and environmental microbiology.
Bill's Plenary Talk will focus on the early days of exploration to understand the microbiology of the deep subsurface and groundwater. Although microbiologists acknowledged the presence and activity of microbes in the subsurface, such as in petroleum reservoirs and groundwater, widespread acceptance that microbes play significant roles in subsurface biogeochemical processes did not come until the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning with interests in understanding groundwater contamination, Bill was among the early innovators who pushed the limits of knowledge and developed methods and aseptic approaches to determine the activity and identity of microbes throughout the subsurface. Recognizing these contributions and achievements from the past will undoubtedly inspire future generations.
Dr. Danielle Fortin
Dr. Danielle Fortin is a world-renowned leader in geochemistry and geomicrobiology. She has been involved in both ISEB and ISSM for almost two decades and is currently the outgoing president of ISSM. She established one of the first geomicrobiology research groups in Canada in 1997, and is currently a Full Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Ottawa, Canada. Danielle has received several national and international awards over the years, including recently being elected Fellow of the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry. Her research on iron cycling and biogeochemistry in natural environments has provided the scientific community with a better understanding of the role played by bacteria in contaminant cycling and iron mineral formation.
Danielle's Plenary Talk will "Close" the Joint Symposium. She will educate us on the week's themes, advancements, and novel findings, as well as point to the challenges that continue to push us to make new discoveries and critical innovations. From this foundation, we will be inspired to work towards solving societal problems and improving biogeosphere sustainability. The future for our organizations is bright. This will be a memorable, motivational talk not to miss!
Dr. Colleen Hansel
Coupled Elemental Cycles & Cryptic Processes
**Unfortunately, Dr. Colleen Hansel had to cancel giving her talk and attendance, but we honor that she was committed to preparing for the talk.**
Dr. Hansel is a Senior Scientist and Biogeochemist in the Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Colleen has more than 20 years of experience studying terrestrial and marine biogeochemistry, including controls on and consequences of the metabolic and biological diversity of natural and man-made ecosystems. Her research employs sophisticated and complementary geochemical and microbiological approaches, including synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopy and fluorescence microscopy to determine the speciation and distribution of metals and minerals, targeted and untargeted genetics and proteomics to discover genes and proteins involved in metal redox transformations and reactive metabolite generation, and electrochemical and analytical chemistry methods for quantification of short-lived reactive intermediates. This blending of microbiological and geochemical techniques has helped Colleen’s research group shed light on the intimate coupling of microbiological and geochemical processes in the cycling and mineralization of several elements (e.g., Fe, Mn, S, O) within various ecosystems (e.g., soils, sediments, ocean).
Colleen’s Plenary Talk will provide an overview of the importance of coupled elemental cycles and cryptic processes in controlling the biogeochemistry and health of various ecosystems. She will begin by discussing discoveries that have provided new insight into the role of transient reactive inorganic metabolites in the speciation and cycling and mineralization of metals. Her talk will then focus on the cycling and sources of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the impact of their formation on other elemental cycles and organismal health. Colleen will also discuss the importance of integrated science and engineering partnerships in the development of submersible sensing technologies that are critical for measuring short-lived intermediates like ROS over various spatial and temporal scales.
Dr. Riikka Kietäväinen
What the Flux? – Water-Rock-Microbe Interactions and Crustal Gases in the Deep Subsurface
Dr. Riikka Kietäväinen is an Assistant Professor of Sustainable Earth Resources at the University of Helsinki, Department of Geosciences and Geography. Before taking up this post in January 2023, she has worked 13 years at the Geological Survey of Finland, as a Research Scientist, Head of Science and Innovations and, most recently, as a Senior Scientist in the Energy and Construction Solutions Unit. Her research focuses on water-rock-microbe interaction and bedrock groundwater evolution, including the study of dissolved gases, and groundwater residence times within the continental crust. Riikka applies hydrogeochemistry, biogeochemistry, and isotope geochemistry of deep and saline groundwaters to study long-term safety of geological disposal of nuclear waste, geothermal energy, and sustainable resources for the energy transition.
Riikka’s talk will take us to the deep, dark fracture zones of the continental crust where production and consumption of various gases, including methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hydrogen, takes place through water-rock-microbe interactions. She will focus on geological factors affecting the formation, accumulation, and release of crustal gases, with important implications to life in extreme environments, environmental impact and risk assessment of drilling and mining operations, as well as hydrogen economy.
Dr. Bradley Stevenson
Follow the Energy – Microbial Strategies Across Heterogeneous Terrestrial Subsurface Environments
Dr. Bradley Stevenson is an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at Northwestern University. Bradley uses powerful molecular tools and cultivation-based approaches to study the role of microbial populations and assemblages as drivers of geochemical processes, corrosion of metal surfaces, degradation of hydrocarbons, and the production of secondary metabolites. Current projects range from exploring the microbial ecology of deep subsurface environments, studying the role of microbial metabolism in the lithification of modern stromatolites, and developing better strategies for monitoring and mitigating microbial degradation and corrosion in fuel storage tanks. Prior to joining the faculty at Northwestern University in 2021, Brad was an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma and an Agouron Geobiology Postdoctoral Fellow at Michigan State University. Dr. Stevenson has served as faculty of the Agouron International Geobiology Course from 2002-2016 and the Microbial Diversity Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in 2022 and 2023.
In his talk, Brad will discuss the ways in which geological forces affect the distribution of microbial life and activity in the terrestrial subsurface biosphere using findings from three contrasting subsurface microbial landscapes: the deep mine microbial observatory (DeMMO), the Paradox Basin, and Mammoth Cave National Park. With Dr. Magdalena Osburn and members of her research group, they have characterized the diversity, distribution, and metabolism of microbial assemblages and their geochemical impact on surrounding systems. These findings and their implications for the distribution of microbial life should help to inform where life can be found to thrive in Earth’s terrestrial subsurface and extraterrestrial habitats.
Dr. Ji-Dong Gu
The Microbiome of Decaying Sandstone Monuments
Dr. Ji-Dong Gu is a Professor of Applied Microbiology in the Environmental Engineering and Sustainability Program at Guangdong Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. His research foci include the microbiology of cultural heritage sites, including Angkor monuments in Cambodia and grottoes in China, the anaerobic degradation of alkanes and corrosion in oilfields, and the biochemical reactions of new microorganisms involved in the nitrogen cycle, like anammox bacteria and their ecological occurrences.
Ji-Dong’s talk will focus on new results of his research jointly conducted with his Japanese colleague, Dr. Yoko Katayama, at Angkor monuments in Cambodia. This research has been carried out for almost two decades. The microbiome of deterioration and decay of the sandstone monuments is being examined for specific biochemical reactions involved with an understanding of the local environmental conditions, water movement, and the mineralogy of the stone.
Dr. Lesley Warren
Bioengineering for Sustainable Development: Water, Mining, and Microbes
Dr. Lesley Warren is an industry trailblazer, at the vanguard of biogeochemical investigation of mining environmental contexts. She holds the Claudette Mackay Lassonde Chair in Mineral Engineering in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Toronto, Canada. She is the leader of the Mining, Water and Environment research group. Lesley is also the first female Director of the Lassonde Institute of Mining at the University of Toronto (2018-present). As a leading expert, she has partnered with numerous energy and mining industry companies, consortia, and governmental agencies around the globe. Her disruptive biosystems approach, which targets strategic identification of the underpinning microbially linked risks and opportunities occurring in mining wastes and wastewaters, supports adaptive environmental management and sound reclamation.
Lesley's exciting talk will focus on the largely unexplored microbiome in mining waste and the development of innovative technologies to transform mining water stewardship. Water scarcity and diminishing water quality are global grand challenges that require radical new solutions if sustainable development goals are to be met. Globally, mining is the 2nd largest industrial user of water, generating copious volumes of degraded wastewater that continue to pose risks to environments and communities because preventative technologies do not currently exist. Without innovative technological solutions, mining-associated threats to global water supplies could surpass those being averted through proposed climate mitigation associated with renewable energy production.
Dr. Jennifer DeBruyn
Animal and Human Decomposition Hotspots in Terrestrial Ecosystems
Dr. Jennifer DeBruyn is a Professor of Environmental Microbiology in the Department of Biosystems Engineering & Soil Science at the University of Tennessee. She studies the microbial ecology of carrion and human decomposition as well as contaminant biodegradation, working in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Her research employs molecular tools to better understand the contributions of microbes to these key environmental processes.
Jennifer’s talk will focus on her research on the decomposition of animal and human mortalities in terrestrial ecosystems. Recycling the nutrients locked up in a carcass is a dynamic process, creating a hot spot and hot moment of microbial activity. She’ll discuss the work her group has done to reveal key biogeochemical transformations and the microbes driving those processes in these hotspots, with the ultimate goal of better understanding the contribution of carrion inputs to ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling.
Dr. Jonathan Lloyd
Some Like it Hot: The Microbiology of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
Dr. Jonathan Lloyd is Professor of Geomicrobiology at the University of Manchester. A particular focus of his group is the microbiology of the subsurface, and in this context Jon has contributed more than 300 papers addressing the mechanisms and impact of microbial transformations of metals, radionuclides and organics in a range of environmental and biotechnological contexts, and has been supported by funding from EPSRC, NERC, BBSRC and EC. Awards for this work include the 2018 Schlumberger Medal of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and from 2015-2020, has was awarded a Royal Society Wolfson Merit award for his work on subsurface microbiology.
He is the founding chair of the UK Geomicrobiology Network and was President of the Mineralogical Society in 2021-2022. He is also a co-founding principal editor of the Geo-Bio Interfaces journal launched in 2023 by the Mineralogical Society and Cambridge University Press.
Jon's talk will explore one of the most extreme environments on Earth, highly radioactive, natural and engineered habitats associated with the nuclear fuel cycle. He will focus on how microbial communities respond to extreme (radio)chemistry, and ultimately control, the biogeochemical fate of key radioactive elements via a range of mechanisms. For example, in nuclear facilities, microorganisms growing in biofilms can capture priority radionuclides, which can cause operational challenges like fouling of downstream processes. In contaminated land, microorganisms influence the solubility of key radionuclides, from which the microbial activity can be harnessed for bioremediation applications to prevent radionuclide migration by forming "biobarriers." In the deep geosphere surrounding underground nuclear repositories, microorganisms can immobilize redox active radionuclides via their respiratory processes. An extension of the “biobarrier” concept for geodisposal scenarios can have a significant, and currently underrepresented, positive impact on safety case development for geological disposal facilities.
Dr. Mark Skidmore
Icy Dive: Microbial Communities and Biogeochemical Processes in Antarctic Subglacial Lakes
Dr. Mark Skidmore is a Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at Montana State University. His research emphasizes the fundamental role of biogeochemical processes in the cryosphere, in particular microbially-mediated reactions in elemental (C, N, P, S and Fe) cycling in glaciated systems and their impacts both regionally and globally. He has more than 25 years research experience focusing on subglacial environments in Alpine, Arctic, and Antarctic systems, including sampling subglacial lakes in Antarctica and Iceland. His research employs an integrated approach to understanding subglacial systems combining hydrologic, geochemical, and microbiological methods.
Mark’s talk will dive into the ecosystems in the icy depths of Antarctic subglacial lakes. Currently, more than 650 subglacial lakes have been identified in Antarctica, which are part of an extensive hydrologic network that underlies significant parts of the Antarctic ice sheet. He will focus on research from Subglacial Lakes Whillans and Mercer, West Antarctica, the only two lakes accessed to date, that exist under more than 800 m of ice. The energy sources for the microbial communities in these permanently cold and dark environments are derived from the ice and the crushing and grinding of underlying rocks and sediments. These subglacial lakes and the ecosystems they host are also of interest to the planetary science community, as they are perhaps one of the best earthly analog systems for the ice-covered oceans on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Europa, and Enceladus.
Dr. Anthony Ranchou-Peyruse
SLiMES and Gas Storage in the Subsurface
Dr. Anthony Ranchou-Peyruse studies the Microbiology of Deep Continental Environments at the University of Pau and Pays de l'Adour in France. For many years, he has been working with subsurface industries to understand the interactions between microorganisms and human activities. He holds an industrial chair dedicated to the study of microorganisms and hydrogen reactivity in the underground, and is the co-founder of a joint industry-university laboratory studying the arrival of new gas mixes in Underground Geological Storage (UGS).
Anthony's talk will focus on his research into gas storage in deep aquifers. Many countries depend partly or wholly on natural gas storage in these geological reservoirs. The massive development of the hydrogen industry must also take these UGS into account, as it will require massive geological storage to reach the necessary quantities envisaged by today's energy policies. However, before being an energy carrier for mankind, hydrogen is an energy source for numerous microorganisms, and represents a potential game-changer in the evolution of these storages by creating artificial SLiMES. Understanding these microbial ecosystems is, therefore, essential to provide decision-support tools, and their complexity calls for multidisciplinary approaches combining microbiology, processes, imaging, physical chemistry, and many other methods.
Dr. Emil Ruff
Microbial Production of “Dark Oxygen”: An Overlooked Process in Earth’s Hidden Ecosystems
Dr. Emil Ruff is a microbial ecologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, USA. His research focuses on microbial metabolisms and interactions that impact the sulfur, carbon, and oxygen cycle in aquatic ecosystems. He is particularly interested in mutualistic interactions between microbes that lead to novel community functions, often enabling these microbes to conquer new habitats. Emil mainly studies ecosystems with reduced complexity, such as natural or laboratory enrichment cultures, microbial blooms, or extreme habitats. His work has greatly improved our understanding of the sources and sinks of the greenhouse gas methane in seafloor ecosystems and groundwater ecosystems. Currently, he is investigating i) the effect of bioirrigation on the removal of methane from wetland sediments, ii) anoxygenic sulfur-oxidizing phototrophs in coastal and marine waters, and iii) the microbial production of oxygen in anoxic ecosystems. He has received an Early Career Grant from the Human Frontiers Science Program (2023), and a Simons Foundation Early Career Investigator in Marine Microbial Ecology and Evolution Award (2021), he is member of the Early Career Scientist Committee of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, and member of the Ocean Sustainability Advisory Group.
Emil will talk about the microbial production of oxygen in the absence of light and its potential relevance in anoxic subsurface ecosystems. In a recent publication, he and his collaborators found evidence of the in situ production of molecular oxygen in old groundwaters across large temporal and spatial scales. This “dark oxygen” likely originated from the microbial dismutation of nitric oxide and/or chlorite, a microbial process that was not described to occur in subsurface ecosystems previously. The availability of dark oxygen apparently fueled aerobic metabolisms, including hydrogenotrophy, methanotrophy, and thiotrophy, which causes productive ecosystems in the subsurface with microbial cell numbers 1-3 orders of magnitude higher than expected. This discovery challenges our current estimates of subsurface cell numbers, as well as our understanding of subsurface ecology and biogeochemistry. Emil will discuss the findings in the context of previous oxygen anomalies found in groundwater ecosystems, and outline the potential relevance of dark oxygen for groundwater health, for the removal of greenhouse gases from groundwaters, and for aerobic lifestyles on other celestial bodies.
Dr. Martina Preiner
The Transition from Geo- to Biochemistry
Dr. Martina Preiner studied chemistry and biochemistry at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. After receiving her Master's degree in physical chemistry, she build up a career as a Science journalist. She worked for various German media outlets for seven years before interviewing a researcher on the origin of life drew her back into the laboratory. For her doctorate at the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, she studied the parallels between geochemical and biochemical CO2 fixation, during a Postdoc at Utrecht University and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) she then got to travel to and investigate deep-sea hydrothermal systems. Since 2023 she is leading the “Geochemical Protoenzymes” research group at the Microcosm Earth Center (a joint initiative between the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology and the University of Marburg, Germany).
Martina will talk about what rocks and cells (could) have in common. She establishes connections between autotrophic carbon metabolism and serpentinization, a water-rock interaction process during which iron-containing minerals transfer electrons to the protons of water to produce hydrogen gas. Hydrogen is both the electron donor for the most ancient route of biological CO2 fixation, the reductive acetyl-CoA pathway and abiotic, geochemical organic syntheses – the intermediates and products of the biological pathway align with the ones in mineral-assisted reactions. So did minerals possibly serve as predecessors for enzymatic catalysis? Martina tries to narrow the gap between the geological environment of an early Earth and the metabolism of the first cells originating from it by looking at carbon metabolism, cofactors, and catalysis on mineral surfaces.
Dr. Michael Phillips
Using AI to Fine Tune the Search for Life
Dr. Michael Phillips is a Research Scientist at The University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Michael uses remote sensing data and mathematical models to understand planetary geologic processes – from ancient crust formation to active surface modification. His work also incorporates cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models to augment strategies in the search for life in the Solar System.
The era of AI has arrived and is bringing with it the opportunity to tackle notoriously challenging problems. One such problem is how to identify the optimal locations for searching for life on alien worlds. AI models offer promising means to breathe life into stale solutions that address this inquiry. Michael’s talk will explore new techniques in the field of Astrobiology that combine AI/ML models with statistical microbial ecology methods to determine the highest probability locations to search for life across nested spatial scales.
Dr. Lyle Whyte
Extant and Past Microbial Life on Mars and the Icy Moons? Clues from Really Cold, Salty Places on Earth
Dr. Lyle Whyte is a Professor of environmental microbiology / microbial ecology at McGill University, a founding member of the recently established McGill Space Institute and a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1 Polar Microbiology). He has made significant contributions in microbial ecology and is considered a global leader in polar microbiology and astrobiology. His groundbreaking research explores microbial ecosystems in unique polar habitats at subzero temperatures, expanding our knowledge of the cold temperature limits of microbial life on earth and their roles in global biogeochemical cycling. This research has significant astrobiology relevance as the sites that he investigates are key analog cryoenvironments for understanding and searching for life on Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. Prof. Whyte is a leader in Canada and internationally in the astrobiology domain and lead the NSERC CREATE Canadian Astrobiology Training Program (2009-2015). He is a member of the the European Space Agency (ESA) ExoMars 2022 Rover Operations Working Group (ROWG) and ExoMars PanCam Instrument Science Teams and was a member of the ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group. He is also the Chair of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Planetary Exploration Consultation Committee (PECC), and is participating in several CSA and NASA grants to develop next generation life-detection technologies for planetary exploration.
Lyle’s talk will describe highlights of his team’s research examining polar microbial biodiversity / ecology in polar cryoenvironments and their planetary science relevance. The presentation will focus on the microbial ecosystems inhabiting the cold, hypersaline perennial spring systems that exist on Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian high Arctic. They are rare examples of non-volcanic perennial springs discharging in an area of continuous permafrost which flow to the surface through 500-600 meters of permafrost. Using a both classical microbiology and novel genomics-based molecular techniques for studying microbial communities, his team has revealed rare surface terrestrial habitat supporting predominantly lithoautotrophic active microbial communities. They interpreted the identified active microbial ecosystem members and metabolisms - sulfide oxidation, sulfate reduction, anaerobic oxidation of methane, and oxidation of trace gases (H2, CO2) - as potential life forms that could exist in very cold and saline environments on Mars and the icy moons.
Dr. Casey Hubert
Geological Processes Mediate a Microbial Dispersal Loop in the Deep Biosphere
Dr. Casey Hubert is Professor of Geomicrobiology at the University of Calgary in Canada. Research in the Geomicrobiology Group draws from Casey's experience during prior positions in the Biogeochemistry Department at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany, and the Geosciences Group at Newcastle University in the UK. Investigations of the microbiology of surface and subsurface petroleum systems are approached from both applied and fundamental perspectives. This includes pursuing relevant applications for a transitioning energy sector as well as opportunities to examine how principles of microbial ecology and extremophile microbiology operate in the context of the deep biosphere.
Casey's presentation will highlight research that the group has been undertaking at recently discovered deep sea hydrocarbon seeps off Canada's east coast. Populations of bacteria and archaea living in these deep-sea sediments show anomalous patterns that reflect the input of biodegradable hydrocarbons from deeper in the geosphere. Amidst these hydrocarbon-adapted microbial communities are also populations rare and dormant bacterial endospores, including thermophiles adapted to life in much deeper petroleum-bearing zones in the subsurface. Accordingly, these 'thermospore' populations are most prevalent in sediments containing seeping thermogenic hydrocarbons. Combining endospore physiology, genomics and biogeography with seabed geochemistry and geophysics reveals a microbial dispersal loop that circulates living biomass in and out of the deep biosphere.
Dr. Kristof Richmond
Exploring Extreme Environments and Astrobiology Targets with Autonomous Vehicles
Dr. Kristof Richmond is the Chief Technology Officer of Sunfish, Inc. He completed his Ph.D. at Stanford University on a visual mapping, navigation, and control system for underwater remotely operated vehicles and then started working with Stone Aerospace on a variety of robotics projects, almost all with an astrobiology component, from subterranean underwater robots to self-contained ice-penetrating vehicles. He has taken advanced systems into a variety of extreme environments, including caves in Namibia, under the McMurdo Ice Shelf in Antarctica, and even the simulated icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa. He has been involved with the development of the highly maneuverable autonomous underwater vehicle SUNFISH® from its beginnings at Stone Aerospace, and now continuing at the spin-out Sunfish, Inc.
There are many intriguing targets in the search for life in our solar system. Looking for signs of biology on the surface and/or interior of these bodies will require the development and testing of a slew of new technologies. Thinking about how to access and explore extreme environments of astrobiological interest has driven the development and testing of new vehicles and capabilities, which have produced spin-offs with useful applications here on Earth. Kristof's talk will review the sub-ice and subterranean exploration technologies developed by Stone Aerospace for NASA astrobiology technology programs, and in particular the SUNFISH autonomous underwater vehicle, now being developed by Sunfish, Inc. for exploration, inspection, and monitoring of complex three-dimensional underwater spaces in the submarine and subterranean world.
Dr. Louise Weaver
Groundwater Diversity across New Zealand: From Micro to Macro-scale
Dr Louise Weaver is a science leader of environmental microbiology at the Institute of Environmental Science & Research Ltd (ESR) in New Zealand. ESR is a Crown Research institute that strives to protect public health through a one health approach: “ka ora te wai, ka ora te whenua. Ka ora te whenua, ka ora te tangata” (If the water is healthy the land will be nourished. If the land is healthy, the people will be healthy).
Louise and her team investigate the potential for pathogen transport from land (predominantly waste treatment systems) to groundwater. Louise also leads a group at ESR Ltd looking at the diversity of groundwater systems, from micro- to macro-scale to try to improve our understanding of biological function in groundwater to remove contaminants. The team uses a multi-disciplinary approach, including next-generation molecular tools to improve our understanding of the ecosystems present in groundwater and develop novel markers for stress. This research is specifically aimed at protecting source water for our drinking water now and in the face of climate change stress.
For her talk, Louise will provide an overview of the diversity of life in groundwater in New Zealand. The focus will be on the alluvial gravels that are predominantly used as drinking water sources in New Zealand. The diversity present will be shown with a toolbox of techniques used. Louise will also provide some insights into the function and resilience of these organisms through the work of her Masters and PhD students' studies.