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Laura Selbmann, PhD

Professor of Botany and Mycology

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Laura Selbmann is a Professor of Botany and Mycology. She has devoted her professional life maily to study the Antarctic cryptoendolithic microbial communities, namely life-forms spreading at the edge for life, as model systems to investigate the evolution and adaptation throughout extremes, and explore them as early alarm systems for monitoring the effect of climate change.

As a world-leading expert in Antarctic microbial terrestrial ecology, Laura Selbmann brought the knowledge of Antarctic cryptoendolithic communities at an unprecedented level in terms of biodiversity, structure and adaptation to stress. 

She defined the distribution and limits of extinction of these communities and the role of different environmental paameters, providing the first comprehensive mapping as foundation to monitoring any future change due to global warming.

Black fungi are among the most extreme-tolerant organisms on Earth. She described 21 new genera and 52 new fungal species from Antarctica and other extreme environments.

By collaborating with Prof. Silvano Onofri to space experiments on International Space Station funded by European Space Agency (ESA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI), she contributed to outstretch the definition of limits of life using Antarctic black meristematic fungi.

Antarctic plateau in the vicinity of Concordia Station is accounted as analogue environment of Saturn and Jupiter icy moons. Microbiological studies are of relevance to gain evidences on the possibility of extraterrestrial life for future astrobiological investigations and to protect target planets from contamination during exploration missions

Caves are extreme environments for their peculiar conditions, permanent dark, spatial confinement. Authoctonous biological diversity have evolved specific and peculiar adaptations. The deposited material inside the caves are of particular importance as they may preserve a number of proxies for searching life elsewhere in the solar system since caves on Mars may have supplied a refuge from the harsh outer conditions, offering stable temperatures and humidity.

Publications

Selbmann, L., et al. (2005). Fungi at the edge of life: cryptoendolithic black fungi from Antarctic desert.

Stud Mycol, 51(1), 1-32.

Selbmann, L., et al. (2013). Biodiversity, evolution and adaptation of fungi in extreme environments. Plant Biosystems, 147(1), 237-246.

Selbmann, L., et al. (2015). Rock black fungi: excellence in the extremes, from the Antarctic to space. Current Genetics, 61(3), 335-345.