DRI’s Geomicrobiology Laboratory studies desert endolithic (inside rock) and soil microorganisms; it also develops life detection methods for in situ investigation of Mars, to differentiate chemical from biological reactivity in soil. Current work is focused on endolithic communities in Antarctic Dry Valleys and the recently discovered endolithic cyanobacteria in the Atacama, Chile.
Research questions range from species composition of communities, physiological adaptation, the role of the rock in survival, and the long term effect of colonization on the mineralogy of the rock. Both biological and geological methods are used in our investigation, including PCR and gene sequencing, microscopy and advanced fluorescent stains (e.g. quantum dots), measurements of iron stable isotopes, X-ray diffractometry, and Raman spectroscopy.
The lab is fully equipped to perform isolation and culturing of microorganisms, fluorescence microscopy, D- and L-amino acid chiral analysis, and soil respirometry. Instrumentation includes autoclaves, -80°C freezers, centrifuges, incubators, microscopes with image acquisition, infrared gas analyzers, HPLC, a speedvac, and a high-end spectrophotometer. As part of the Nevada System of Higher Education, DRI has access to the new genomic center located in Reno. Through collaborative projects, the lab also has access to scanning and transmission electron microscopes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, infrared, mid infrared, and visible spectrometers at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Raman spectrometer and X-ray diffractometer at the University of Arizona, Tucson.