Welcome to the home page of Corien Bakermans. I am a microbiologist interested in determining what adaptations microorganisms have evolved to live at low temperatures and how these adaptations are relevant to ecological success and ecosystem processes.
Contact me:Corien Bakermans, PhD Assitant Professor of Microbiology Altoona College
Extremophiles in general are my passion as they take me into the field and also allow reductionist work in the laboratory. I am particularly fascinated by how microorganisms approach the thermodynamic constraints of low-temperature environments. Low-temperature environments (such as sea ice, glacial ice, the deep sea, and permafrost) are inhabited by a variety of cold-adapted organisms from microorganisms to fish and plants, but are clearly dominated by microorganisms in terms of species diversity and biomass. Yet, microbiologists have only begun to realize the potential for bacteria to actively survive, and even reproduce, in cold environments at temperatures as low as -20°C. Whether or not bacteria are active enough to actually reproduce in these or other low-temperature environments remains to be conclusively demonstrated. Few studies have examined the physiological adaptations of microorganisms at low temperatures and even fewer studies have examined the growth of microorganisms at temperatures below -1.7°C (the freezing point of seawater). Clearly large gaps in our knowledge persist about the activities and processes of microbial communities at low temperatures and in the environment.
The long-term goal of my research is to develop a comprehensive understanding of how microorganisms can successfully inhabit and contribute to the function of ecosystems that experience subzero temperatures. Subzero temperatures, whether seasonal or permanent, introduce additional stresses to organisms such as high salt concentrations and the presence of ice crystals. Relating mechanisms of low-temperature adaptation (such as structural, functional, and regulatory changes in proteins, transcripts, chromosomes, and membranes) with ecological success of microorganisms as measured by in situ activity, diversity, distribution, and contribution to ecosystem function (nutrient cycling) will be essential to this goal.
(Photos: Top, Corien in the Austrian Alps. Bottom, Field work in the Canadian Arctic, July 2006.)