Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. (Mar. 12, 2020) – Rutgers student Julia Van Etten, whose @Couch_Microscopy Instagram page garnered more than 25,000 followers by showcasing microorganisms as art, is now working with NASA on research into how red algae can help explain the origins of life on Earth.
Van Etten, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, says red algae grow and thrive in areas that mimic conditions of the early Earth, such as the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. Their unique ability to survive by “stealing” genes from the microorganisms around them have helped red algae to evolve and adapt in areas with extreme temperatures, high acidity and without any direct sunlight. These incredible capabilities, Van Etten says, hold clues into how life first evolved on Earth and may be evoling elsewhere in the universe.
Van Etten was awarded a grant from the Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology (FINESST) program in 2019 to fund three years of research towards the red algae project titled "Generating a mechanistic understanding of horizontal gene transfer as a driver of cell adaptation on the early Earth."
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