Learning the Secrets of Ancient Earth

Sharon Grim

Sharon Grim, a doctoral student in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, explores the relationship between microbes and their geochemical environment.

Sharon uses ’omics approaches and computational methods, laboratory experiments, and field surveys to investigate cyanobacterial mats in Lake Huron. These cyanobacteria can perform two modes of photosynthesis: oxygenic and anoxygenic photosynthesis. Thus, they are functionally similar to microbes on the early Earth that were responsible for oxygenating the atmosphere.

It took almost 2 billion years for modern oxygen levels to develop, and the mechanisms controlling the mode of photosynthesis, and ultimately the timing and pattern of oxygenation, are not well understood.

Under the supervision of Greg Dick, Sharon’s research objectives are to evaluate the influence of sulfide and other environmental parameters on the photosynthetic physiology of cyanobacteria.

By studying the ecosystem dynamics of modern anoxygenic photosynthetic cyanobacteria she hopes to improve our knowledge of biological and geochemical factors that shaped the environment of ancient Earth.

This knowledge of the fundamental aspects of the interaction between sulfide and cyanobacteria has implications for coral disease and harmful algal blooms.