Earth Sciences Division (ESD) Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)

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Lise Øvreås, Visiting Fulbright Scholar

Source:  Dan Hawkes

Lise_visitLBNL and the Earth Sciences Division are delighted to be hosting Lise Øvreås of Norway, here on a prestigious Fulbright Arctic Chair for seven months, beginning in July 2012. Dr. Øvreås will be continuing her investigation of Arctic microbiology, taking advantage of the world-renown Berkeley Lab metagenomics program—involving the genetic sequencing of microbial genetic material (i.e., DNA) taken directly from the environment. Øvreås will specifically be adding her expertise to the Berkeley Lab NGEE project—a study of permafrost ecosystems in the Arctic. 

It is thought that while there are ~1021 stars in the universe, there are ~1030 bacteria—so that, as Øvreås put it in a recent article, “Microbiological diversity is an unexplored area of astronomical proportions. I thought that I would find simpler microbial communities if I looked in the Polar regions—generally the case with other organisms. I thought that there would be fewer and more specialized species, but this isn’t necessarily the case where microbiology is concerned.”


Lise Øverås describes microbiological diversity as an unexplored area of astronomical proportions. The picture seems to depict astronomical objects, but is 1 gram of earth that has been treated with a fluorescent pigment that attaches itself to DNA. (Photo: Lise Øverås)

Øvreås will work with ESD Ecosystems Biology Program Head (and U.C. Professor) Janet Jansson during her stay at LBNL. In November 2011, Jansson and her collaborators published an article in Nature, on the distribution of bacteria in thawing permafrost. In this study, samples of permafrost that had been frozen for several thousand years were thawed out in a laboratory. The microorganisms became active (after thaw) from a dormant or low-active state, and were able to produce methane and other climate gases at a surprising tempo. This discovery could prove to be very important—and ominous news with respect to global warming.

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