news releases

2005.02.28 > For Immediate Release
contact: Teresa Gleason - University Affairs
phone: 402.554.2762 - email: tmgleason@mail.unomaha.edu

March 22 Lecture at UNO to Examine the Ecology of Life in Boiling Water

Omaha - Do all germs die when plunged into boiling water?

The answer, which may surprise you, is the subject of a community lecture set for Tuesday, March 22, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).

Melanie Holland, a faculty research associate in the Arizona State University Department of Geological Sciences, will present "Seafloor Volcanoes, Surly Bison and the Ecology of Life in Boiling Water" at 7 p.m. in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom.  The event is free and open to the public.  Interested high school and middle school classes are encouraged to make arrangements to attend the lecture.

Holland is a Ridge 2000 Distinguished Lecturer.  Ridge 2000, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is an interdisciplinary research program that explores the Earth's oceanic spreading ridge system as an integrated whole. UNO is one of 16 U.S. institutions to host a Ridge lecturer in 2004-05.

"Temperature is one of the few physical or chemical variables that has the capability to render an environment completely sterile, but our everyday experience concerning cooking, boiling and sterility is somewhat misleading," Holland says.  "Medically malicious microorganisms and other commonplace bacteria die in your simmering stewpot, but in hot springs and other volcanic environments, heat-loving microbes thrive."

Holland will discuss these heat-loving microbes, known as "thermophiles," which can live at 1200 C – above the temperature at which water boils in atmospheric pressure.  Modern molecular biology and forensic DNA technology is dependent on an enzyme from a thermophile.

"Determining the relationship between thermophiles and their environment is an ongoing challenge that has far-reaching implications," Holland says.  "If they can live in habitats created solely by volcanoes, then volcanoes on other planets might also support life."

The March 22 lecture is sponsored by the UNO Department of Biology, the UNO Department of Geography and Geology, and the National Science Foundation's Ridge 2000 Distinguished Lecturer Series.  Refreshments will be served following the event.

For more information, contact the UNO Department of Biology at (402) 554-2641.

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