PIRE: Toward a holistic and global understanding of hot springs ecosystems: A US-China based international collaboration

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project will focus on the largest hot spring complex in China, the Tengchong Geothermal Field in Yunnan Province, because of its unique geographic location and because little is known about microbial diversity, biogeographical patterning, and ecosystem-level functions in hot springs of East Asia. Furthermore, the research site will serve as a hub to stimulate research on other geothermal systems in East Asia including Japan, the Philippines, Russia, Taiwan, and Thailand. The long-term goal of this project is to develop a holistic and global view of geobiology in geothermal systems to complement and build upon what is known about life in other geothermal sites, such as Yellowstone National Park. In addition, US students and scientists will have a unique opportunity experience the biologically-, geologically-, and culturally-diverse regions in southwestern China and throughout East Asia and develop long-lasting international collaborations. Intellectual Merit: The study of high temperature ecosystems (>73C) is a frontier in biology because energy that supports these ecosystems is derived from chemical disequilibria rather than light. Some continental hot springs are hot spots of novel biodiversity, with an abundance of phylum- to class-level groups that have no cultured representatives so-called biological dark matter. The expertise of our team enables us to follow three key lines of investigation necessary for generating a holistic understanding of microbial community structure and function: 1) Comprehensive geochemical analysis and thermodynamic and kinetic modeling geochemical and mineralogical data will be used to classify and thermodynamically characterize hot springs and develop hypotheses on energy flow and biologically-driven element cycling; 2) Comprehensive studies of rates of C- and N-cycling activities coupled with comprehensive censuses of key biomarkers of C- and N-cycle processes biomarkers including genes, mRNAs, lipids, and biomass stable isotope natural abundances will be examined to link C and N metabolism with specific organisms or classes of organisms; 3) Genomics of microbial pure cultures and uncultivated microorganisms the dominant microorganisms in the springs as well as novel biological dark matter will be investigated using traditional cultivation approaches and through microfluidics-based single cell isolation and subsequent genome sequencing. Genomes will be examined to identify key genes involved in biogeochemical cycles and biogeography. The combination of careful site characterization, direct measurement of microbial activities, and genomic approaches will lead to an unprecedented, integrated understanding of this system that will ultimately facilitate an understanding of the role of geochemistry and/or biogeography in controlling microbial community structure and functio
Effective start/end date8/15/106/30/15


  • NSF-OD: Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE): $347,931.00


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