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Dr. Henry Sun

Assistant Research Professor Microbiology
antarctic, extreme environments, desert, microbial

Research Areas of Interest and Expertise

  • Life in extreme environments
  • endolithic (inside rock) microorganisms in the Antarctic dry valleys, the Atacama Desert, and Death Valley
  • mineral formations in microbial environments
  • biological rock weathering, iron isotopic fractionation, and survival and adaptation in endolithic communities
  • new approaches to planetary life detection; microbiology of compost tea making and its use as an alternative to fungicide in agriculture and viticulture.

Selected Current Research Projects


Postdoc 2000 Jet Propulsion Laboratory Astrobiology
Ph.D. 1997 Florida State University Microbiology
M.S. 1986 Nanjing University Phycology
B.S. 1983 Nanjing University Botany

Professional Appointments

2004 - present. Assistant Research Professor, Desert Research Institute, Las Vegas, NV
2000 - 2003 Staff Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA
1997 - 1998 Assistant Professor, Dept of Biology, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, FL

Awards and Honors

2007 Group Achievement Award, NASA Headquarters
1996 Antarctic Service Medal, National Science Foundation and US Navy
1996 Best Student Paper, American Society for Plant Physiology, Orlando, FL.

Academic Affiliations

  • Astrobiology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Spring Semester, 2005;
  • Spaceward Bound, astrobiology for teachers (Atacama 2006; Mojave 2007, 2008, 2009).

Current Students

Selected Publications

Sun H, V Saccomanno, B Hedlund, CP McKay. Terrestrial life recognizes D-glucose, not L-glucose: preliminary evidence and implications for Martian life detection. Astrobiology in review.

Bahcheli DM, H Sun, R Leon, S Hess, J Nadeau. 2008.
Fluorescence microscopy as a tool for in situ life detection. Astrobiology 8:859-874.

Dong H, JA Rech, H Jiang, H Sun, BJ Buck. 2007. 
Endolithic cyanobacteria in soil gypsum: occurrences in Atacama (Chile), Mojave (USA), and Al-Jafr Basin (Jordan) Deserts. J Geophys Res – Biogeosci, 112, G02030,doi:02010.01029/02006JG000385.

Georgiou CD, I Papapostolou, H Sun, CP McKay. 2007.
Superoxide radical assays and applications in Mars-like Atacama soils. J Geophys Res – Biogeosci, 113, G04S13, doi10.1029/2006JG000390.

Scott JH, DM Obrien, D Emerson, H Sun, GD McDonald, A Salgado, ML Fogel, 2006. 
An examination of the carbon isotope effects associated with amino acid biosynthesis. Astrobiology, 6(6):867-880.

Friedmann EI, H Sun, 2005.
Communities adjust their temperature optima by shifting producer-to-consumer ratio, shown in lichens as models: I. hypothesis. Microb Ecol 49:523-527.

Sun H, EI Friedmann. 2005.
Communities adjust their temperature optima by shifting producer-to-consumer ratio, shown in lichens as models: II. verification. Microb Ecol 49:528-535.

Sun H, PT DePriest, A Gargas, AY Rossmann, EI Friedmann, 2004.
Pestalotiopsis maculans is a dominant parasymbiontic fungus in North American lichens. Symbiosis 33:215-226.

Yang, H., and H.J. Sun. 2004:
Crystal structure of a new phosphate compound, Mg2KNa(PO4)2•14H2O. Journal of Solid State Chemistry 177:2991-2997.

Beard, B., C. Johnson, J.L. Skulan, K.H. Nealson, L. Cox, and H. Sun. 2001: 
Application of Fe isotopes to tracing the geochemical and biological cycling of Fe.  Chem Geol 195(1-4):87-117.

Ching, W.K., A.J. Colussi, H. Sun, K.H. Nealson, and M.R. Hoffmann. 2001: 
E. coli disinfection by electrohydraulic dischanges. Environ Sci Technol 35:4139-4144.

Beard, B., C. Johnson, L. Cox, H. Sun, K. Nealson, and C. Carmen. 1999: 
Iron isotope biosignature. Science 285:1889-1892.

Sun H, E Friedmann. 1999. 
Growth on geological time scales in the Antarctic cryptoendolithic microbial community. Geomicrobiol J 16:193-202.

Book Chapters

Sun, H, CP McKay, J Nienow. Antarctic Cryptoendolithic Microbial Ecosystem. In: Astrobiological Analogues: Life in Antarctic Deserts and other Cold Dry Environments. P Doran, B Lyons, D McKnight (eds). Cambridge University Press, Astrobiology Series. In press



Young, M. H., Yu, Z., Tyler, S. W., Drohan, P. J., Verburg, P. S., Cooper, C. A., Caldwell, T., Decker, D. L., Devitt, D. A., Kreamer, D. K., McDonald, E. V., Nowak, R. S., Papelis, C., Smith, S. D., Sun, H., Ye, M., Zhu, J., 2005: Scaling environmental processes in heterogeneous arid soils (SEPHAS): A new Nevada NSF EPSCoR initiative, Published



Atmospheric Sciences (DAS)
Air quality and atmospheric research including meteorology, visibility and pollutant transport.

Western Regional Climate Center
Climate Information and Data Services
Providing jointly developed products, services and capabilities that enhance the delivery of public climate info.

Diversity at DRI
An Inclusive Mission of Research Excellence
Diversity at DRI
Offering a supportive and diverse environment for our students, faculty/staff and visitors.

Land and Life
Earth and Ecosystems Sciences (DEES)
Research into changing landscapes including the soils, plants, animals and humans that affect them.

K-12 Outreach and Education
Supporting Nevada educators in science-based, environmental education with free tools, resources, and training.

Renewable Energy at DRI
Discovering New Energy Production Methods
dri-renewable-energyExpanding renewable energy research throughout Nevada and around the U.S.

Hydrologic Sciences (DHS)
Study of the natural and human factors that influence the availability and quality of water resources.

DRI Nevada Medal Event
2015 Medalist - Dr. Christopher McKay
Proudly honoring outstanding achievement in science and engineering with gala events in Reno and Las Vegas.

Nevada Center of Excellence
Supporting Nevada's Economic Development
Center of ExcellenceCombining NSHE water expertise and IBM’s advanced technologies to grow tomorrow's workforce.