Stromatolites and the Origins of Life

Stromatolites represent a model for studying the origins and evolution life on our planet. They are geobiological structures composed of complex and diverse microbial communities. The study of microorganisms associated with these formations may also be applied to the search for extra-terrestrial life, particularly with the discovery of unique bio-signatures. This project is part of research undertaken at the UNSW Australian Centre for Astrobiology and at NASA in the United States. Novel microorganisms (bacteria and archaea) are being investigated for their mechanisms of stress response, cell communication, gene transfer, and other unique physiologies that allow adaptation to extreme habitats and permit the formation and persistence of these evolutionarily significant systems. 

We have access to unique field sites on the coast of Western Australia (and other locations throughout the world through our collaborators), and work closely with the WA Department of Environment and Conservation to ensure these unique ecosystems are carefully monitored in the face of threats such as climate change. This research program combines biogeochemical field measurements, laboratory analytical methods, and recent advances in functional genomics. In particular, there is the opportunity to employ next-generation sequencing platforms, including various ‘meta’ approaches (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics). Students will use these and other modern microbial and molecular biology techniques to examine specific aspects of community function, from deciphering microbial interactive networks to novel natural product synthesis. 

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