Unearthing the secrets of our microbial world 

La Trobe researchers are exploring how life survives in extreme environments

Dr Sean Bay, an environmental microbiologist, explores how life survives in extreme environments.

“Bacteria and other microorganisms are the unseen architects of Earth's environmental conditions across all ecological settings,” says Dr Bay.

“Accounting for roughly 15% of the Earth's biomass, these tiny life forms are the key drivers of our planet's carbon and nutrient cycles and play a significant role in climate regulation. They flourish in abundance and diversity, even in the harshest environments.”

Despite the importance of microorganisms to our planet’s ecology, our understanding of their metabolic functions and how they regulate their energy resources remains limited.

“My research seeks to understand the biogeochemical and energetic basis of microbial biodiversity – the variety of microorganisms within a particular environment – in challenging ecosystems like deserts, caves, glaciers, or the deep sea,” says Dr Bay.

Findings from Dr Bay’s latest research have revealed the metabolic diversity of soil bacteria and their ability to tap into a range of inorganic energy sources.

“These include atmospheric trace gases such as hydrogen, carbon monoxide and methane, which they use for their survival and growth,” adds Dr Bay.

“This discovery has enhanced our understanding of how life might emerge and persist, especially in energy-limited ecosystems.”

Dr Bay’s research aims to make a meaningful contribution to addressing global challenges, such as climate change.

“Our research plays a pivotal role in expanding our understanding of the microbial realm and its influence on the Earth's systems. In doing so, we are helping to pave the way for innovative approaches to boost environmental stability and food security.”