Ions and Life
Ions have remarkably complex interactions with life. Some recent work in our lab has explored what defines the ionic limits to life, showing that ionic strength as well as water activity can set limits to life in some extremes, such as sulfate-rich brines. We have shown how ions can set the limits to life in the planetary crust, yet lab experiment also show that high pressures in the deep subsurface can reverse the biochemically deleterious effects of certain anions (perchlorates), yielding new insights into how ions interact in multiple extreme environments to shape the physical limits for life.
Ions can also be useful to humans and I will describe our recent experiment on the International Space Station to study the use of microorganisms to extract useful ions and atoms, such as Rare Earth Elements, from basalt on the Moon and Mars (called ‘biomining’).
Finally, ionic solids (salts) can entomb microbes for a long time and I’ll finish off by briefly describing a new initiative we have begun with National Museums Scotland called “The Laboratory for Multi-Century Science” to carry out experiments that take a century or longer to run, including a salt entombment experiment (you can read about the new lab here: https://academic.oup.com/astrogeo/article/60/6/6.26/5624997). If you have any ideas for experiments to add to this lab, then you can tell us about them.
This is a weekly series of informal talks given primarily by members of the soft condensed matter and statistical mechanics groups, but is also open to members of other groups and external visitors. The aim of the series is to promote discussion and learning of various topics at a level suitable to the broad background of the group. Everyone is welcome to attend..