BA/MA biology student Jane Wiedenbeck received a NASA-supported fellowship that will support her research in Professor of Biology Fred Cohan's lab on bacterial evolution.
In some models of origins of life, hot springs are considered to be one of the first environments inhabited by life. During the 2010-11 academic year, biology BA/MA student Jane Wiedenbeck ’10 will use a NASA-funded Graduate Fellowship to study the evolution of certain microorganisms to discern how life may have originated and evolved under extreme conditions.
Wiedenbeck, who applied for the fellowship during the fall 2009 semester, received a $20,000 award from the Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium. The Consortium is a member of the NASA-funded national Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, and serves to promote and support NASA aeronautic and space-related research in Connecticut.
Martha Gilmore, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Wesleyan’s liaison for the Connecticut Space Grant, presented the award to Wiedenbeck.
This fellowship will support Wiedenbeck’s research in Professor of Biology Fred Cohan‘s lab on bacterial evolution–specifically the nature and rate of species formation in Bacillus subtilis and hot-spring Roseiflexus. Both model organisms are of particular interest to astrobiology, Wiedenbeck explains.
” Both Bacillus and Roseiflexus are able to thrive in extreme environments, for example, Roseiflexus has the ability to live in extreme thermal conditions in hot springs,” she says. ” While Bacillus and Roseiflexus themselves may not be found in other parts of the universe, studying their ecology and evolution may give us clues as to what types of traits may be advantageous for organisms that would allow them to survive on other planets, and how simple microorganisms in general are able to adapt to extreme environments.”
Bacillus produces an extremely resistant spore, which is believed to be able to withstand the rigors of travel through space, perhaps after being launched into space with dust from an erupting volcano. Thus, if another planet were to be colonized spontaneously by earthly life, Bacillus
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