November 18-19, 1999 

ITEM 105-2004-R1199 Authorization to Establish the Center for Life in Extreme Environments (CLExEN): Thermal Biology Institute; Montana State University-Bozeman

THAT: The Board of Regents of Higher Education authorizes the establishment of the Center for Life in Extreme Environments: Thermal Biology Institute at Montana State University-Bozeman.

EXPLANATION: SUMMARY

The Montana State University Center for Life in Extreme Environments (CLExEn): Thermal Biology Institute will initiate a long-term multidisciplinary program to study thermal biology from the cellular to ecosystem levels. Current research programs incorporate macrobiology and microbiology into a complete physiochemical examination of the thermal environments. The long-term goal is to understand how organisms respond and adapt to the harsh physical and chemical features of the extreme thermal environment. One of the major outcomes of this research will be the comprehensive understanding of the food webs, nutrient cycling, and bioenergitic relationships between the organisms inhabiting these extreme thermal settings. The research program will combine individual PI-driven projects and strong collaborative interactions. The CLExEn will also have a strong educational component that will incorporate undergraduate and graduate student training, postdoctoral training, a visiting scholars program, and a seminar series. It is expected that establishment of the CLExEn will serve as a scholarly and industrial research center for the study of life in extreme thermal environments, which will drive creation of an environmentally clean industry for Montana, and will generate sustained economic development for the GreaterYellowstone Region.

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

Current and future funding will provide the means for an interdisciplinary team of MSU-Bozeman scientists to initiate a long-term research/education program that will focus diverse talents and resources on the establishment of a premier international center for thermopile research. MSU-Bozeman is located within 90 miles of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and its estimated 10,000 geothermal features, and the CLExEn will use this advantage to develop unique research programs to examine in detail the thermal systems in YNP. YNP is one of the world's most complex and diverse geothermal areas that remains relatively unaltered by man=s activity. The close proximity of MSU-Bozeman to YNP provides MSU scientists with the unequaled opportunity to perform research in this diverse geothermal environment. These research and educational activities are facilitated by the significant synergy and cooperation within the group which affords the opportunity to address aspects of thermophile biology that cross discipline boundaries. It is indeed this multidisciplinary approach that will allow the CLExEn to make significant advances in our understanding of thermal biology. In addition, this approach will serve as a model for studying environments in ways that help bridge the chasms that exist between microbiology, macrobiology, and the physical sciences.

CENTER STRUCTURE AND IMPLEMENTATION

Structure and Administration

Each participating CLExEn faculty member is expected to have a competitively funded research program in thermal biology. Initial funding will be used to stimulate new research initiatives and to create a multidisciplinary research environment for examining thermal biology. The CLExEn faculty will meet weekly to discuss relevant issues, present updates on individual research projects, and to plan future research. The proposed CLExEn is comprised of a core 7 tenure-track faculty, two adjunct assistant research professors, and is co-directed by Drs. Mark Young and Tim McDermott.

Educational Component

Educational/research opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows are an integral component of the CLExEn. The CLExEn will also fund a visiting scholars program, where internationally eminent scientists will be invited for extended visits. The visiting scholar will teach a seminar-style course to be attended by the CLExEn faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates. We believe that the opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to directly interact and intimately discuss issues with these world-class scientists will prove to be a very enriching and growth-promoting experience. We also anticipate exciting interactions between the CLExEn faculty and these visiting scholars. Finally, a monthly seminar program will allow the CLExEn faculty to invite scientists from throughout the world to visit, provide an update of their current research, and discuss possibilities for collaboration.

Importance to Montana State University-Bozeman

MSU-Bozeman is in a unique geographic location to take advantage of the enormous scientific and commercial potential resulting from industrial and biotechnological development of microbes from YNP. Establishing MSU-Bozeman as a scholarly and industrial research center for the study of life in extreme thermal environments will: i) drive creation of an environmentally clean industry for Montana; ii) generate high-paying jobs filled by MSU-Bozeman trained graduates; and iii) create a sustained revenue flow for the Greater Yellowstone Region. The economic gain from biotech-related jobs alone would be substantial and does not include the potentially large royalty returns to MSU-Bozeman for microbes/enzymes discovered by MSU-Bozeman scientists and students.

The CLExEn will be funded initially with substantial resources from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). It is the expectation that these funds will continue and that additional funding from the private sector and other federal research and education agencies will be acquired. Successful technology transfer may also provide continuing operating funds for the CLExEn.