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Monday, May 9th
10:15 AM

An Analysis of Bipyrimidine Limitations as Photoprotective Genome Strategies in Halophilic Archaea

Daniel L. Jones, Westminster College
Bonnie K. Baxter

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

Haloarchaea experience high levels of ultraviolet (UV) light in their environments and demonstrate resistance to UV irradiation under laboratory conditions, yet the mechanisms underlying haloarchaeal photoprotection remain unclear. Herein, we consider genomic signatures as a potential photoprotective strategy. One of the predominant forms of UV-induced DNA damage is cyclobutane pyrimidine dimer (CPD) formation at pyrimidine dinucleotides, particularly at thymine-thymine (TT) and thymine-cytosine (TC) sites. A survey of all haloarchaea genomes available in the NCBI database demonstrates that on average, haloarchaea feature higher proportions of guanine (G) and C nucleotides within their genomes than non-halophilic microorganisms. Altogether, these notions have led us, among others, to consider whether the high G+C content seen in haloarchaea serves a photoprotective function through limiting T nucleotides. We reason that if halophiles have evolved a genomic strategy to attenuate the damaging effects of UV radiation, then the incidences of the most photoreactive dinucleotide species should be limited in their genomes. Therefore, we designed a program to determine the frequencies of the four pyrimidine dinucleotides (TT, TC, CT, and CC) for samples of haloarchaea, archaea, and bacteria (n=29 each). The outputs were used to generate a single metric quantifying the “genomic photoreactivity” of each sample; we then employed statistical methods to compare results between the three sample groups. Our findings do not support the notion that the UV resistance seen in haloarchaea can be attributed to a genomic strategy.

CoolerSat: A Modular Prototype for High-Altitude Balloon Testing of Satellite Subsystems

Get Away Special Microgravity Research Team, Utah State University
Jan Sojka

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

The CoolerSat is a prototype intended to introduce new team members to the team structure, and to give the team experience as we move toward high-altitude balloon testing of components and subsystems in the summer. These components will eventually be flown on a mission to low earth orbit on a 1-U CubeSat.

Direct Optical Detection of Microorganisms in Exoplanet Atmospheres: Methods

Caitlin Murphy, Utah Valley University
Ryker Eads, Utah Valley University
Natalie Sullivan, Utah Valley University
Joseph Burton, Utah Valley University
Timothy Doyle

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

The purpose of this project is to develop an optical method for detecting the presence of life, specifically microorganisms, in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. We are developing algorithms that distinguish between aerosols of biological origin (microorganisms) from aerosols of non-biological origin (dust, hydrosols, etc.) using analysis of their respective and combined extinction spectra. The method uses large databases of computer-modeled spectra to analyze optical measurements and identify biological aerosols. Whereas most exoplanet researchers focus on detecting molecular spectral signatures, we are focusing on detecting the microorganisms directly rather than their molecular by-products. This method holds significant potential for detecting microorganisms from light scattered from an exoplanet’s atmosphere.

In order to simulate exoplanet atmospheres using information available today, Jupiter’s atmosphere was used as a model. This was accomplished by creating a MATLAB program that simulates the scattering of light using complex mathematical models. The optical information for clouds of different types was programmed into MATLAB, as well as the optical data for different kinds of microorganisms. Extinction spectra were simulated using many different size distributions; these distributions were centered at particle sizes typical of microorganisms, liquid clouds, and ice clouds.

Many experiment were carried out in order to analyze the effects of different variables on the resulting extinction spectra. These experiments and their results are detailed in our second poster, entitled “Direct Optical Detection of Microorganisms in Exoplanet Atmospheres: Models & Results.”

Direct Optical Detection of Microorganisms in Exoplanet Atmospheres: Models & Results

Ryker Eads, Utah Valley University
Caitlin Murphy, Utah Valley University
Natalie Sullivan, Utah Valley University
Joseph Burton, Utah Valley University
Timothy Doyle, Utah Valley University

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

This poster will focus on the analysis of extinction spectra obtained from simulations of exoplanet atmospheres; these spectra have been simulated using a variety of particle types and size distributions. To simulate these spectra, we have created a MATLAB program that uses mathematical models and complex algorithms to model Mie and spherical scattering. This scattering of light from aerosols has been modeled in the ultraviolet to near infrared band (200-1100 nm). We have modeled atmospheric compositions that are typical of Jovian planets, using known information about the atmosphere of Jupiter (see our first poster, entitled “Direct Optical Detection of Microorganisms in Exoplanet Atmospheres: Methods”).

Extinction spectra were simulated for six particle types: Erwinia herbicola (EH), Bacillus atrophaeus (BG), ovalbumin (OV), ammonia ice, water, and water ice. Initial results show that the extinction spectra of microorganisms are distinctly different from those of water and ammonia ice clouds; all spectra resemble complex polynomial functions, but the size and location of the peaks vary according to the composition of the particles simulated. These differences are amplified when the size of the particles tested is proportional to the wavelength of the light.

There are many variables that could affect this change in extinction spectra. The resulting data from the simulations detailed above has been analyzed to determine which variables most affect the spectra. This analysis focused on the variation of four parameters: refractive index, average particle size, percent volume, and standard deviation.

DNA Detection in Salt

Edgar Chavez, Westminster College
Brett Denney, Westminster College
Bonnie Baxter, Westminster University

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

Biological material surviving in modern halite (salt) on Earth may point to a method for detection of potential or former life in salt deposits on Mars. This project attempts to find an efficient method extracting cells and DNA from modern halite crystals to gain more insight into efficient method of extracting DNA from ancient salt. Our method considers the limitations of Mars Rover techniques in terms of reagents and simplicity. Halite was collected from the north shore of Great Salt Lake, Utah. Through direct experimentation, we designed a filtration system to isolate DNA from salt samples and refined this process to provide the highest yields of clean DNA. To determine quantities of DNA, we experimented with several highly-sensitive detection methods. Our most promising method utilized the dye, pico-green, which is detectable by a ultraviolet spectrophotometer. Methods for the best yield and detection will be presented as well as a design that adapts this work to remote techniques.

Efficiency of Manual Powered Oxygen Concentrator

Jason King, University of Utah
Lara Brewer
Soeren Hoehne
Joseph Orr

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

Microbial Diversity of Culinary Salts

Galen Muske, Westminster College
Bonnie Baxter

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

Extremophiles are exceptional microorganisms that live on this planet in extraordinarily harsh environments. One such extremophiles are Halophiles, salt-loving microorganisms that can survive in extreme salinity levels, and have been found to survive inside salt crystals. We were curious is about the potential diversity of halophiles surviving in salts harvested from around the world. For this experiment various culinary salts were suspended in a 23 % NaCL growth media broth and allowed to grow for 4 weeks. Afterwards, the individual strains were isolated on 23 % NaCl growth media agar plates. The colonies observed were visually diverse in color and margins. Individual colonies were grown in broth and DNA was extracted. PCR and sequencing were utilized to compare the 16S rRNA gene in each species of bacteria or archaea. We will present data on the microbial diversity of the salts that did have media cultures. These salts come from 1) salt pearls from Lake Assal Djibouti, Africa; 2 Fleur De Sel Gris Sea Salt from France, Europe; 3) sea salt from Bali, Indonesia; and 4) salt collected from the lake bed of Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Resistance of Thin Films

Alex Farnsworth, Dixie State University
Samuel Tobler, Dixie State University
Jacob Kodra, Utah Valley University
Bryce Wright, Utah Valley University
Paul Weber, Utah Valley University

10:15 AM - 10:45 AM

Precise understanding of the resistivity of metals is an important factor in the optimization of circuit designs and electrical systems. We studied the fabrication of, and measurement of electrical properties of thin films of copper, gold, and nickel. Resistivity measurements of these films were made using 4-°©‐point probes designed and built at Dixie State University (DSU). The making of the films at DSU used thermal deposition and sputtering deposition. The making of the films at Utah Valley University (UVU) used RF sputtering deposition. Analysis of the smoothness of the films was verified with atomic force microscopy (AFM) at UVU. Thicknesses were measured using ellipsometry at BYU and with a stylus profilometer at NIST in Boulder, Colorado. Scanning electron microscopy was also used in the analysis of the films. Resistances similar to bulk properties of the films was seen in thicker films. Thinner films showed an increase in the resistance of each film.