The four specific aims of this project include:
Our overall goal is to elucidate the molecular adaptations that allow extremophiles to survive in their harsh habitats and to determine if these adaptations will allow them to survive space travel and the presumed conditions on other planetary bodies within our solar system. The overall general NASA-related question is: “What physiological and molecular adaptations would allow extremophilic microorganisms to survive space-travel and evolve in the harsh environments of other planets (or moons) within our solar system?” From this question, we have developed the following general research hypothesis: A special class of highly conserved proteins known as Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) and genetic contributions from virus activity are linked to the adaptation and survival of extremophiles in harsh environments; these HSPs and viral mechanisms will be critical for the survival of extremophiles during space-travel and in environments found on other planets (or moons). To investigate this hypothesis we have assembled a complementary group of investigators ranging from junior faculty to senior-level scientists from tribal colleges to larger mainstream universities, government labs, and industry. Each investigator brings to this project a unique set of expertise and capabilities that complement those of the other research group members. This project is organized as a collaboration between investigators at Montana State University (Bozeman, MT), The University of Montana (Missoula, MT), Portland State University (Portland, OR).. A strong emphasis in training students from underrepresented groups and mentoring junior-level faculty has been developed as an integral part of this project with the goal of increasing the number of Native Americans and other underrepresented groups pursuing careers in space sciences. It is anticipated that data resulting from this work will offer new insights into the basis of microbial evolution, advance our understanding of modern biotechnological applications of ancient biomolecular systems, and significantly forward scientific understanding of the extents at which life may exist.