Haloarchaea: Shifting tides

Ben Farmer, University of Kentucky


Credit: Bob Podolsky. This was from an outreach trip to Magnolia Plantation & Gardens for Ladybug Release day. Getting to show kids (and adults!) sea creatures was a fun break from research.

Findings: After 10 quick weeks, my research on extremophiles at College of Charleston is now coming to a close. In my previous post, I described the methodology that I used in the Rhodes lab to research a species of haloarchaea, Haloferax sulfurifontis. Haloarchaea are extremophiles that thrive in excessively saline conditions like the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Haloferax is fascinating because it can not only survive, but grow, in anywhere between 6% and 37% salinity. That is from ~2 to ~10 times the average salinity of sea water! This makes it a great model for understanding how halophiles might acclimate in real time to the salt concentration around them.

The way we chose to do this over the summer was by analyzing the abundance of particular tRNA in Haloferax. The results were pretty exciting, and while I cannot touch on anything too specific, we definitely found trends. Some of these trends were in line with what we expected to see, while some where quite the opposite. Such is science. The main takeaway is that whether we produced results we “wanted” to see or not, the results were exciting on their own and told us meaningful information about important environmental adaptations in extremophiles.


A flask containing culture of haloarchaea. The grapefruit-tinged color is caused by the pigments found in the millions of haloarchaea cells growing in the hypersaline media solution.

I came into this summer wanting to gain experience in molecular techniques. I previously worked with corals in the Caribbean, and really wanted to know more about what was going on at the molecular level in things like coral disease. While I focused on archaea this summer, I gained a wealth of knowledge pertaining to microbiological techniques, working with bioinformatics, and interpreting academic articles on projects that use these techniques. After this summer I am newly invigorated to take what I have learned in the lab, and apply it to my passion for coral reef research.

Lastly, I want to extend my thanks to Dr. Rhodes for his ever patient mentorship, as well as everyone involved with the lab. My labmates, Isabella and Lilyana, were committed to collaboration wherever possible and it made life in the lab a breeze. Also, Dr. Geslain provided extensive knowledge of tRNA as well as use of his equipment, for which I am very grateful. Lastly, I would like to thank everyone at the Fort Johnson REU program for putting together such a great research opportunity and having us for the summer!


This project is funded through the National Science Foundation and supported by the Fort Johnson REU Program, NSF DBI- 1757899.


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