Life in extreme conditions

Dr. Ram Karan (right), a research scientist in the KAUST Catalysis Center, recently won two awards at the International Congress of Extremophiles 2018. Image courtesy of Ram Karan.

-By Tanya Petersen, KAUST News

Dr. Ram Karan, a research scientist working with KAUST Professor Magnus Rueping in the KAUST Catalysis Center, recently won two awards based on his current research on extremozymes from Red Sea brine pools. The first was the best paper award at the 12th International Congress of Extremophiles 2018 for his paper entitled "Extremozymes from Red Sea Brine Pools."

The International Congress of Extremophiles, sponsored by NASA, showcases state-of-the-art research on basic and applied aspects of life in extreme environments and aims to stimulate high-quality research.

Extremophiles are organisms that thrive in extreme environments which for other life forms are unbearable or even lethal, such as hydrothermal vents, polar oceans and acidic and alkaline conditions, or in the presence of toxic waste, organic solvents or heavy metals.

Karan's research focuses on understanding how life is possible under extreme conditions.

"We used culture-independent methods to systematically evaluate the structure and function of polyextremophilic enzymes from the brine pool located at the bottom of the Red Sea and we were able to identify several extremozymes," he explained. "Crystal structure analysis of these extremozymes combined with biochemical studies provided insights into how enzymes adapt to extreme conditions. Our methodology provides a general guideline for scientific and industrial exploration of [the] 'microbial dark matter.'"

"These robust organisms are remarkable not only for providing us with stable enzymes but also [for] telling us under which variety of conditions life is possible," he continued. "Since astrobiology raised the possibility of life elsewhere in the solar system, extremophiles also stand for the probability that if these microbial communities can succeed under extreme conditions on Earth, they could also emerge on interstellar environments. Therefore, extremophiles are [a] highly fascinating and attractive field of research."

Based on his research, Karan also won a second award, the Springer Award for a research presentation.

"It is truly special and a great pleasure to receive these awards. I am very privileged to have such great support from KAUST and the opportunity to work with Professor Magnus Rueping, who is a visionary mentor," Karan stated.

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