Blog Series: Student Researcher in Sweden Studying Microbial Communities

University Relations - Communications
Aug. 12, 2014

This is the second in a five-part University of Arizona blog series about the University's STEM education initiatives and students conducting research abroad.

Darya Anderson is a UA undergraduate researcher currently studying microbial changes at the Stordalen mire, which is located in subarctic Sweden through the University's Biomedical Research Abroad: Vistas Open! program. Her work is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Anderson, an Honors College student studying environmental sciences, shared some thoughts about her experience.

Q: You are stationed at the Abisko Research Station. Can you describe your research and its importance?

Anderson: I am doing my research at Stordalen mire, where there is a natural thaw gradient from intact permafrost to completely thawed permafrost. I am looking at carbon substrate utilization (by microbes) along the gradient. Let me explain why this is an important component of our overall goal of understanding the carbon transformations occurring with thaw: It has been seen that the microbial response to thaw is to release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and carbon dioxide, an abundant greenhouse gas, as byproducts of their metabolic processes, consequently accelerating global warming. But why is this happening is the question. What is happening upstream (at the microbial level) that is resulting in the release of these greenhouse gases? So it is important to look at what carbon sources the microbes are using and how that changes with thaw. If we map out what carbon the microbes are using we will have a clearer picture of the carbon inputs and transformations that result in increased gas fluxes in the fully thawed permafrost.

Q: Why did you take an interest in this research in Sweden?

Anderson: I was originally interested in this lab because it focuses on how natural systems may be accelerating global warming. After working in the lab I think that it is really cool that such tiny microbes can have such a huge impact on, well, everything.

Q: You previously conducted research in Sweden?

Anderson: I looked at the first thaw feature at Stordalen mire over the past year with Maya Sederholm (a fellow UA undergraduate researcher in envionrmental sciences). We were studying how the microbial community changes from the intact permafrost to the first thaw feature and also how it changes with depth. We looked specifically at the top 13 phyla and the functional guilds that those top phyla were a part of to try and understand what the microbes may be doing. We also looked at interesting patterns that we saw. For instance, we saw a particular lineage that is very dominant at deeper depths in the intact permafrost. We are still investigating the role of this lineage in the overall carbon cycling in the mire.

Q: What are your future plans?

Anderson: My work in Virginia Rich's (a UA assistant professor in Soil, Water and Environmental Science) lab for the past year has taught me to ask questions and write things down always. I am not sure what my plans are after my studies. I am going to try and just do the things that interest me and make me happy. Like following a trail of chocolate cookies and seeing where that takes me.

Read about other UA students conducting research abroad:

Photos courtesy of Darya Anderson


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