Pushing the Limits: Looking for Life in Extreme Environments

Date:  Sunday, March 10, 2013
Speaker:  Betsy Kleba

Betsy Kleba’s interest in “life at the extreme” began when she entered graduate school to study the molecular characteristics of the tiny fraction of microbes with the unique capacity to cause diseases in humans. After earning a Ph.D. in infectious diseases and immunity from U.C. Berkeley, Betsy continued her work at an NIH research facility dedicated to the study of microbial pathogens. Now as a assistant professor at Westminster College she works with her students on projects that examine microbial life inhabiting the extreme environments of Utah’s unique geography:  Bonneville Salt Flats and Great Salt Lake.”This presentation will use the salty legacies of ancient Lake Bonneville as a backdrop to


  • explore the characteristics that define “extreme” environments
  • discuss why “extreme environment” is a human construct
  • describe the characteristics needed to survive extreme conditions
  • explain how learning about extremophiles contributes to their own lives
  • examine the possibility of life beyond Earth
  • probe for extremophiles in Great Salt Lake & Bonneville Salt Flats

Speaker Suggested References and Resources:
The 12-minute video accessible at the link below provides a quick and light-hearted introduction to microbial life, characteristics, and classification:

Scholarly books whose chapters synthesize the current understanding of microbes:
J.M. Martinko & M.T. Madigan (2005). Brock Biology of Microorganisms (11th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-144329-1.
R.A. Garrett & H. Klenk (2005). Archaea: Evolution, Physiology and Molecular Biology, Malden, MA: WileyBlackwell. ISBN 1-4051-4404-1.
R.H. Vreeland, L.I. Hochstein (1993). The Biology of Halophilic Bacteria. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, ISBN 0-8493-8841-4,
P. Dion & LC. Shekhar Nautiyal (2008). Microbiology of Extreme Soils. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer, ISBN 978-3-540-74230-2.