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Colder Than Ice: Researchers Discover How Microbes Survive in Subfreezing Conditions

Most microbial researchers grow their microbes in petri-dishes to study how they grow and how they respond to damaging conditions. But researchers in Louisiana State University’s Department of Biological Sciences are doing something almost unheard of: studying microbes under freezing conditions to understand how organisms could survive for hundreds of thousands of years in deep Antarctic permafrost, or perhaps even buried in ice on Mars.

“I could take you down the hallway into a common room we have, full of freezers,” said Brent Christner, an associate professor in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences and Antarctic microbe explorer extraordinaire, leaning excitedly over his desk as he shows me microscope images of cells encased in ice. “And in those freezers are cells and tissues. We put them there, because that is actually a way to preserve them.”

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