Research into environmental biotechnology and microbial ecology at UnAk has focussed on several extreme biotopes relevant to astrobiology and the hunt for life on other planets. These include extreme habitats such as lava tubes, cold desert environs, and geothermal features. The Cave walls in lava tubes have yielded a variety of facultatively chemolithotrophic bacteria that may have roles in rock weathering within the caves and reflect a complex community supported by both organic and inorganic nutrients that enter the cave from above via seepage through cracks and fissuers in the lava. Psychrotrophic and psychrophilic bacteria from cold desert soils, glaciers, and glacial river water have also been among our focus areas; and, at the other temperature extreme, we have the thermophiles and hyperthermophiles. Iceland, being a volcanic island, has plenty of geothermal areas where we prospect for these extreme organisms.
Prof. Oddur Vilhelmsson: cold-adapted bioremediation, bacterial life in cold and/or oligotrophic environments, geomicrobiology, bioweathering, syntrophic and symbiotic associations.
Jóhann Örlygsson: Extremophiles, particularly thermophiles and hyperthermophiles, life in hot springs, thermophilic biotechnology.
Auður Sigurbjörnsdóttir: Lichens and their bacterial symbionts, cold-adapted microorganisms, syntrophic and symbiotic associations.
Sean Scully: Extremophile enzymes, biocatalysis, and metabolism under extreme conditions.