ambience: Sonicator, Scintillation counter
We’re at a NASA laboratory in Northern California, where, you might say, that scientists are exploring outer space by looking through microscopes. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“I was one of those kids who saw an amoeba when I was eight years old and fell in love.”
Today, Lynn Rothschild is an astrobiologist with NASA, a scientist who studies life in the universe. And she’s still in love with microscopic organisms.
“This instrument’s a sonicator, and what we do put our organisms, our bacteria and our algae in a little beaker, we put them under the probe and turn on the instrument. And ultrasonic waves come out of the probe and they actually break open the cells. The reason we need to break open the cells that we use is because we’re actually studying their molecular biology and biochemistry, so we have to break them open to get the DNA and the proteins out.”
NASA scientists are studying these microscopic life forms because they were the creatures evolving on Earth several billion years ago, and they may provide clues to possible life on other planets, such as Mars. Lynn Rothschild observes what goes on inside a microbe during the course of a day, to see how it reacts to sunlight.
ambience: Scintillation counter
“This is a scintillation counter, it’s used to figure out how much radioactivity we have in a sample. It gives us an idea of either how much either photosynthesis or DNA synthesis has gone on during the day.”
One thing she’s learned from tracking “a day in the life of microbe”, is that mammals aren’t the only living things that take naps.
“As the Sun comes up in these organisms DNA synthesis begins to go up and then in the afternoon there is a sharp dip in DNA synthesis. I’ve suggested that organisms do take a siesta in the afternoon.”
To hear about our new CD, please visit pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.