Research Professor | Earth and Ecosystem Sciences | LaboratoryThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 775-673-7361 | Download Full CV

About Dr. Alison Murray

Dr.  Murray is a molecular microbial ecologist and biological oceanographer with research interests centered around a common theme of utilizing molecular biological and genomic approaches to describe the diversity of life, understand the evolutionary history, ecological roles, and physiological capacity and capabilities of free-living and symbiotic microorganisms several of which are considered to be at the extremes of where life exists. Dr. Murray has had long-term interests in developing technologies to study microorganisms in the natural environment. Recent work has taken Murray and her team to the Southern Ocean to study broad large scale ecosystem patterns in picoplankton. Murray's also been involved in NASA's new Ocean Worlds program and was co-chair of a Europa Lander Science Definition Team. Much of her work has been dedicated to developing environmental genomics technologies for detecting and studying organisms sampled directly from the environment, thereby circumventing the need for cultivation. Her research is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing upon oceanography, geosciences, computational biology, astrobiology and chemistry. She collaborates with a large network of scientists nationally and in Europe, Australia and New Zealand with expertise in these fields.

Dr. Murray's research has taken her and members of her research group to the Antarctic Peninsula and Northwestern Weddell Sea and the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, the North Slope of Alaska and coastal Arctic, deep sea hydrothermal vents of the East Pacific Rise, and Yellowstone National Park to study the microorganisms inhabiting these diverse, and extreme ecosystems. She has also worked locally in the Sierra Nevada snowpack to characterize the nature and diversity of organisms in snow (i.e. snow algae and bacteria) and throughout the water column of Lake Tahoe in different periods of stratification through the year.

    Research Areas of Expertise
  • Diversity, ecology and evolution of archaea and bacteria, focus on marine systems
  • Polar microbial ecosystems
  • Environmental microbial genomics, specifically, functional and comparative genomics
  • Astrobiology, life detection methods


Degree Year Institution Area
Ph.D. 1998 University of California,
Santa Barbara, CA
Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology
M.S. 1994 San Francisco State University,
San Francisco, CA
Cell and Molecular Biology
B.S. 1989 Cal Poly State University,
San Luis Obispo, CA

Research Highlights

  • Dr. Murray participated in a Public Panel discussion and public debate on the link between life in the Antarctic and outside planet earth - Antarctica into Space at the SCAR Biology meeting, in Leuven Belgium, July 2017.
  • Dr. Murray served as the co-chair for the Europa Lander Science Definition team June 2017-Dec 2018.

Awards and Honors

Year Received Award

Nevada System of Higher Education Regents Researcher Award


2008 Regents Rising Researcher Award, Nevada Board of Regents


2006 Peter B. Wagner Medal of Excellence for DRI Scholars in the Early States of Career Development


Distinguished Alumni Award, Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies, SFSU

Keywords: microbial ecology, genomics, extreme environments, Antarctic, polar, biogeochemistry, microbial diversity, astrobiology, biological oceanography, adaptation