Microbial Observatories (MO)

Created by George Rice, Montana State University

Images or McMurdo Dry Valley Lakes, Mono Lake, and Mamoth Hot Springs.

"Advances in molecular biology, genomics and bioinformatics, and cultivation technologies herald a new age of exploration of the microbial world. The Microbial Observatories (MO) and Microbial Interactions and Processes (MIP) activities will support research to discover and characterize novel microorganisms, microbial consortia, communities, activities and other novel properties, and to study their roles in diverse environments. The Microbial Observatories activity is a continuation of MO competitions held since 1999. The long-term goal of this activity is to develop a network of sites or "microbial observatories" in different habitats to study and understand microbial diversity over time and across environmental gradients. Projects supported are expected to establish or participate in an established, Internet-accessible knowledge network to disseminate information resulting from these activities. In addition, educational and outreach activities such as formal or informal training in microbial biology, and activities that will broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in microbial research and education are expected." (From Microbial Observatories (MO) and Microbial Interactions and Processes (MIP))

This collection of websites presents profiles of Microbial Observatory projects, including overviews of the research programs, introductions to the research teams, key research questions, methods, significant findings, links to related resources, and if available, suggested instructional activities. These modules serve the MO researchers by providing opportunities to address NSF's Broader Impacts criteria through the National Science Digital Library ( This site may be offline. ) , and helps to make exciting new research outcomes available for use in classrooms and by the general public.

MO Projects:

McMurdo Dry Valleys - The Dry Valleys harbor the only permanently ice-covered lakes on Earth. The permanent ice covers greatly reduce wind-driven mixing, gas exchange between the atmosphere and the water column, light penetration, and the deposition of sediments.

Viruses from Yellowstone - Viruses of Archaeal hyper-thermophiles (temperatures in excess of 80oC) are interesting because they can reveal what kinds of biochemical modifications organisms have undergone to withstand the stresses of surviving in such extreme environments.

Red Layer MO - Extreme temperature (45-60°C) microbial communities such as those thriving in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are hypothesized to be modern analogues to the most ancient forms of life on earth. Evidence of stromatolites resembling modern mats exists from at least 3.6 billion years ago [Schopf and Packer, 1987].

North Inlet Microbial Observatory - The diazotrophic (nitrogen fixing) Bacteria are extraordinarily diverse and apart from a few select groups are very poorly characterized. Diazotrophs associated with the roots of non-crop plant species are particularly understudied. The North Inlet Microbial Observatory (NIMO) focuses on diazotrophs in a salt marsh ecosystem.

Marine Sponges MO - Sponges are the predominant organisms in many tropical reef ecosystems and contain a great diversity of microbial symbionts. These symbiotic bacteria can be responsible for up to 60% of the weight of the sponges, and many microbes have been found in sponges that have not been isolated from any other ecosystem.

Nevada Hot Springs MO - "Alkalithermophilic Chemolithoautotrophic Crenarchaeota" is a mouthful to say, but it precisely describes the new types of microbes being sought by Chuanlun Zhang, Christopher Romanek, Gary Mills, and Juergen Wiegel of the University of Georgia.

Oligotrophic Ocean MO - This project focuses geographically on the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study (BATS) site. This site is one of the longest time-series studies of oceanographic conditions on the planet and for the past decade has been a test bed for the development of advanced molecular techniques developed to measure microbial diversity.

Monterey Bay MO - The DeLong lab's scientific interests focus primarily on questions in microbial biology. A large part of the lab's efforts have been devoted to the study of microbes and microbial processes in the ocean, combining both laboratory and field-based approaches.

Sapelo Island MO - The Sapelo Island Microbial Observatory (SIMO) is investigating the diversity of prokaryotes, their physiological and genetic characteristics, and their biogeochemical activities in a salt marsh/estuarine ecosystem in the southeastern U.S.

Contaminated Aquifer MO - This project has been designed to advance knowledge about the diversity and activity of microorganisms residing in subsurface water and sediments in a shallow naphthalene-contaminated aquifer in South Glens Falls, NY. This site has been studied hydrologically, chemically, and microbiologically for a decade.