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Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese

Outstanding Islanders

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Discovering Life in Extreme Conditions

Dr. Brandi Kiel Reese, Assistant Professor in the Department of Life Sciences at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, had a life changing moment at age 18, when she took her first SCUBA diving trip. During that excursion, she realized that there was an entire ocean full of life, which she never knew existed, and from that moment on, her path of learning science, via the environment, began.

Reese is spending summer 2015 at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, a prestigious research center in Germany, to study microbial life found in the deep marine sediments of the Baltic Sea Basin and South Pacific Gyre.

“We know more about the surface of the moon, than we do our own oceans,” Reese commented. “It’s an untapped frontier.”

While researching samples of bacteria brought up from the deep sea subsurface, Reese discovered a new species of fungi. The discovery may have implications to the healthcare field, as some of the fungi belong to the genus Penicillium, the source of penicillin, a drug that is the subject of some concern as it seems to be losing its effectiveness against illnesses it’s currently used to treat.

“It’s a privilege to be a witness to new discoveries,” Reese said. “The thrill of finding something new and unique drives me, but it’s also exciting to figure out how to use this applied knowledge to our benefit.”

Reese came to the Island University in fall 2014, and teaches courses in microbial ecology and geomicrobiology.

“My research focus is on life in extreme environments,” Reese commented. “My interdisciplinary background has helped me end up where I am today.”

With her passion for extreme environments, it’s no surprise that Reese has figured out a way to get her newly-discovered fungi from the extreme ocean depths to outer space. In September, she says six cultures of the fungi will be launched to the International Space Station, via NanoRacks in Houston. They will return to Earth four months later. This is the first of many experiments that will be flown to the Space Station.

“The purpose of this is to see how the physiology changes in zero gravity, UV irradiation, and other extreme factors have on the samples,” said Reese. “I have no idea what I’m going to see. Anything we discover is going to be interesting.”