Extreme biology

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Doel vak

At the end of this course, the student will be able to describe and
explain various aspects of adaptation to extreme environments:
• how cellular structures (e.g. membranes) and individual molecules
(proteins/DNA) are affected by physical parameters like temperature, pH,
salt, pressure and radiation.
• how nature has solved these problems: what are the general and
condition-specific adaptations to extreme conditions,
• what are the limits for life, and its relevance to the development of
life on Earth and other planets,
• how can we exploit knowledge on nature’s extreme adaptations: what are
its industrial, medical and societal applications
• how to search, study and present an original research article on an
extremophile topic of choice

Inhoud vak

First life on Earth evolved under extreme conditions, at high
temperature and without oxygen. Also nowadays extreme conditions can
easily develop, for example as the result of drought/salinization,
pollution and permanent extreme environments are abundant, like the
(Ant)artics, geothermal vents, hot pools etc. Thus, organisms are
adapted or need to adapt to extreme conditions.
The biology of living under extreme environmental conditions (in short
extreme biology) has increasingly attracted attention in recent years.
Reasons for this interest are
diverse: apart from scientific curiosity, understanding how life
functions under extreme conditions contributes to a better understanding
of evolution of life on earth, and the potential for life on other
planets, it is of medical importance (cryobiology, sensor technology,
enzyme technology), deals with major societal concerns (pollution,
climate change) and leads to industrial applications (novel enzymes with
new applications).
The key question in extreme biology is how extremophiles have adapted
their enzymes/membranes/DNA structures etc. that serve the same function
as those of ‘normal’ organisms, but operate under very different
physical constraints. The course will focus on life forms
(microorganisms and plants and some examples from animal and human life)
that have developed in environments that we do not experience as
‘normal’. ‘Normal’ relates to environmental factors like temperature,
water, oxygen, pressure, radiation, pH, salinity etc. Environments that
are extreme with respect to these factors are e.g. hot springs, ice,
deep sea, deserts, acidic/alkaline or saline waters or sites polluted by
industry, nuclear waste etc. Extremes are also encountered in daily
life, like lichens on trees during hot summer days, Helicobacter pylori
in the acid environment of the stomach etc. The course will deal with:
• Identification and description of extreme environments, and the most
important physical parameters that form a limitation for biological
• Understanding why and how physical parameters affect specific
biological processes.
• Describing strategies developed by extremophiles to protect membranes,
protein structures and DNA.
• Examples of possible applications of extreme biology in science,
industry, medicine, agriculture etc.
• You will apply this knowledge to study and present an original
research article on a subject of choice that relates to extreme biology
and write an essay on that topic.


The course consists of lectures, workshops and presentations. Lecturers
will present and discuss specific topics and recent reviews and research
papers will be available for the students. Students will choose an
extremophile topic of his/her choice, present a selected research paper
and write an essay on their topic of choice.


Written exam with essay questions (70%), Journal Club presentation plus
essay (30%). Grades for all parts must be 5.5 or higher.

Vereiste voorkennis

Bsc Biology, Biomedical Sciences


Selected review and research articles.


Master students Biomolecular Science, Biology, Ecology and Biomedical
Sciences with an interest in the extra-ordinary forms of life.

Algemene informatie

Vakcode AM_470509
Studiepunten 6 EC
Periode P2
Vakniveau 500
Onderwijstaal Engels
Faculteit Faculteit der Bètawetenschappen
Vakcoördinator dr. ir. A.H. de Boer
Examinator dr. ir. A.H. de Boer
Docenten prof. dr. H.V. Westerhoff
dr. ir. A.H. de Boer
dr. D. Bald
dr. ir. T.F.M. Roelofs

Praktische informatie

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