It was only recently that we began to understand the capacity of microbes to populate the most inhospitable places on earth. From the inside of nuclear reactors to highly corrosive sulfur environments, microbes are there. We have found them in 100,000 year old ice cores and in the bottom of the deepest ocean. Microbes were among the first life forms and many of them have evolved in extreme, isolated environments.
One of my research interests is to examine how microbes thrive in these extreme environments. One unique place where microbes live is deep in the earth’s surface. Here, they live at elevated temperatures and pressures. They also have to make do with very little source of nutrients. Between the extreme environment, low nutrients, and evolutionary isolation, these life forms harbor the possibility of novel energy regulation and utilization pathways.
To study these microbes, we have to design and build our own experimental equipment. Currenlty, I am building a high pressure microbial growth chamber for one of the projects I am work on. This system is going to be able to withstand pressures greater than 160 ATM (1 ATM = 14.7 psi). We also will have an optical setup with a view cell which will let us examine how our cultures are behaving under these high pressures. I hope to have the safety cage built this week (the picture is of me drilling the 3/8″ steel plate for the bottom of the cage) and start piping the growth chamber next week. It is really exciting to see how all of this is coming together. Stay tuned to see the progress of the high pressure growth chamber.