Principal Investigator Brent Christner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Cell Science at the University of Florida. His specialties are in microbial ecology and environmental microbiology. Brent lives in Gainesville with his wife Renee, daughter Kyla, three cats, and a dog. Florida’s warm weather has not stopped him from going to Antarctica for eight field seasons — this season with SALSA will be his ninth on the ice.
Brent went to graduate school at Ohio State University to specifically study thermophilic microbes. However, he says that he “turned to the cold side after learning of an incredible opportunity to do a PhD on extremophiles in ancient ice cores.” Brent’s research group at UF consists of about 12 graduate and undergraduate students that are studying microbial ecosystems and interactions in the cryosphere, atmosphere, and terrestrial subsurface.
Research with SALSA
Brent and his team’s specific role is to provide information on the composition of the microbial communities in the lake and the metabolisms they perform. “Some of these approaches rely on culturing members of the subglacial lake ecosystem, which when returned to the lab provide opportunities for multiple experiments that examine their unique physiologies and adaptations,” he explains. “We also use approaches that characterize nucleic acid signatures directly from the samples, providing a wealth of information on members of the microbial communities that are very difficult to grow under standard laboratory conditions.”
Working in Antarctica
According to Brent, “doing science in Antarctica is awesome and addictive, but twice as hard as doing it anywhere else.” He calls Antarctica a “scientific utopia” because “every person you meet and interact with in Antarctica is either doing or supporting science and is passionate about it.”