So we’ve mentioned Team Protist in our blogs, but what do we actually do in Antarctica and why are we here? We work in Antarctica because our research laboratory is interested in how life survives extreme conditions, in particular, the coldest temperatures that life can not only survive but thrive and reproduce (See Kenall’s blog on psychrophiles to learn more about “cold loving” lifeforms)! We also are specifically interested in a special groups of lifeforms called Protists (hence our team name). Protists are microorganisms, but they are different from bacteria in that their cell structure is similar to plants and animals. That is to say: there are plant-like protists (called algae) and animal-like protists (called protozoa). We are interested in both kinds of protists and are trying to figure out when it is an advantage to be a photosynthetic (plant-like) protist or a predatory (animal-like) protist. We have already isolated several of these different kinds of microorganisms and we grow them in our laboratory, but we also want to study these fascinating lifeforms in their natural environment.
The lake ice prevents >99% of the sunlight from reaching the microbes living beneath the ice.
We study protists in ice-covered lakes in Antarctica for a few important reasons. First, the only lifeforms in our lakes are microbes (!!), so the “animal-protists” that eat bacteria and other smaller protists are the top predators in the food web…. And the “plant-protists” are at the bottom of the food web, making the food for the rest of the microbes living in our lakes. Second, our microbes live under many extreme conditions, not just low temperatures – they also have to live with very little light and extremely limited nutrient supply year round. We work on three different Antarctic lakes because they have different combinations of these extremes in temperature, light and nutrients, and therefore have different proportions of pSo, we’re also interested in what effect these other extremes have on our favorite bugs.
Lake Fryxell has extremely low light available for photosynthesis and has special photosynthetic microorganisms that prefer to live in oxygen-free environments