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Survival Of The Fittest – European Science Foundation Hosts Session On The Challenges Of Life In Extreme Environments

March 16, 2012

Have you ever wondered how life is sustained in environments like deserts, deep seas or the polar regions? How do organisms adapt and thrive in such harsh conditions, and what challenges do they face as a result of human activities and climate change, especially climate “extremization”? Shedding light on some of these issues is the objective of the European Science Foundation’s (ESF) session on 27 March at Planet Under Pressure 2012. The session will look at different aspects of life in extreme environments – from knowledge to sustainable exploitation of new resources under growing pressures. Recognizing the pivotal role of extreme environments at planetary level, the ESF-hosted session will be also endorsed by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) through the programme dedicated to land-atmosphere interactions (iLEAPS).

A selection of outstanding speakers from across Europe and the US will discuss emerging ideas about sustainable exploitation of novel resources, e.g. for food or non-food biotechnology, and fine-chemistry. The presentations will highlight research on biogeochemical cycles to understand the impacts of climate change and the ecosystem responses, and to provide knowledge about adaptation, land use change, and mitigation options.

This ESF-hosted session is a follow-up of the FP7-funded Coordinated Action for Research on Life in Extreme Environments (CAREX) project and strategic roadmap – a solid scientific consensus from a community of over 220 international experts studying life in every type of extreme environment – launched last year. CAREX’s identified research priorities include life’s response to climate and environmental change, its adaptation methods, understanding biodiversity and interactions within extreme environments, and finding limits of habitability which could inform the search for extraterrestrial life.

The ESF-hosted session will be split into four presentations:
• Professor A. Altman, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, will shed light on the desert environments, highlighting plant-specific coping molecular and physiological mechanisms based on chaperone proteins that superintend the general metabolism under harsh environments
• Dr D.S.M. Billet, from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton in the UK, will present an overview of mining in the deep sea and the issues surrounding protection of marine life
• Dr C. Verde, from the Institute of Protein Biochemistry at the National Research Council in Italy, will report on Antarctic bacterial globins and their role in nitric oxide (NO) biology, highlighting how this and other findings may be exploited for sustainable exploitation of biological resources in extreme environments
• Dr L.J. Rothschild, from the NASA Ames Research Center in the US, will focus on  life in extreme environments from NASA’s perspective

ESF’s session is an opportunity for Planet Under Pressure’s delegates to gain new perspectives on the latest research into life in extreme environments, to interact with leading scientists in the field, and to gain a real understanding of the pro-active role of CAREX so far, and its vision about future sustainable exploitation of life resources in the extreme environments.

ESF will be also hosting a side meeting, attendance by invitation only, on 27 March, on research on life in extreme environments, taking a retrospective look and an outlook at pressures on our planet and global change. Research on life in extreme environments provides outstanding opportunities to advance our fundamental scientific knowledge of the variety of life processes. It is also relevant to current societal challenges such as technological innovation, exploitation of novel compounds, advance knowledge on impacts of global change on biodiversity, and sustainable exploitation of resources, in turn alleviating pressures on our planet. To be properly and efficiently addressed, such an interdisciplinary area of knowledge (ranging from deep sea to polar regions to alpine ecology to astrobiology) requires the definition, coordination, and implementation of a holistic plan and policy in the future.

The outcome of this side meeting will see the publication of a vision paper on the scientific challenges and societal opportunities offered by research on life in extreme environments, as well as policy implications.

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