Field_Notes -The Heavens 2019

HAB group


hosted by Melissa Grant & Oliver de Peyer

High Altitude Bio-prospecting – Extremophiles:Psychrophiles:Cryobiosis
The copiously branching tree of life reveals that life can exist almost anywhere on Earth. Eighty percent of the biosphere, including the deep oceans, the cryosphere at the planet’s poles and the high atmosphere where the focus of HAB locates, is permanently cold. Yet we know relatively little about cold defying organisms: where do they live? How do they survive? Can we find them? Research suggests that there are microbes above us seeding snowflakes and rain clouds and as such instrumental for life on the ground, forming a shell which is part is seemingly part of every ecosystem on this planet. They may be few and far between – will lengthy flights be needed to find them? Can contact be made? Can we sample the high atmosphere and discover unique extremophiles and psycrophiles that live and thrive? With a transdisciplinary group HAB will seek strategies to investigate the high atmosphere above the subarctic Kilpisjärvi and explore how to think about the relationship between the ecologies of the ground and the sky from the perspective of art and the sciences.

Melissa Grant is a biochemist with a deep interest in the reciprocal influences of arts & sciences. She is a current researcher at the University of Birmingham, curator of the Open Wide project in the Birmingham Dental Hospital and fellow at Birmingham Open Media. She has been part of the High Altitude Bioprospecting (HAB) team, with Oliver de Peyer, since its conception in 2008. HAB are particularly interested in discovery of micro-organisms in extreme environments, such as the stratosphere.

Oliver de Peyer is a lab automation specialist with a particular interest in astrobiology and interdisciplinary research. He was recently awarded Chartered Scientist status by the Science Council largely on the basis of his part work on HAB with Melissa. Oliver is a firm believer than science can span far beyond the lab you work in, and indeed many of the best scientists may not actually be working in “science” at all.