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Dr. Rebecca Prescott, University of Hawaii Manoa, Department of Microbiology
Biofilms from coral reefs, lava caves, and…other planets? Indicators of environmental change to fingerprints of life
Biofilms are structured communities of microbes that colonize surfaces, often encased in exopolysaccharide (mucus), and thrive in most environments on Earth. Microbes have functioned in biofilm communities for at least 3.4 billion years, supported by the occurrence of ancient stromatolites, and the genes responsible for biofilm formation occur in some of the most ancient microbial lineages. These surface-attached communities are understudied relative to planktonic microbial communities, yet they can function as indicators of environmental change, measures of resilience of a community, provide important clues to the evolution of life on Earth, and possibility to the discovery of life on other planets. In this seminar, I will discuss biofilms as indicators of water quality change along the Great Barrier Reef, and how changes to biofilm community composition and structure influence coral larvae settlement, a measurement of coral reef resilience. I will also discuss newly discovered, diverse communities of biofilm mats from lava caves near Hawaii’s volcano, Kīlauea, and the presence of unique and ancient linage of Cyanobacteria, Gloeobacter kilaueensis. Biofilm communities from extreme environments like lava caves, along with the highly interactive nature of natural biofilm communities may provide us with a glimpse of the earliest fingerprints of life, enabling us to better detect extinct or extant life on other rocky planets like Mars.
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