Research interests

Please see the following video that highlights Dr. Whyte’s high arctic research projects:

My research projects focus on examining microbial biodiversity and ecology in the Canadian high Arctic and the Antarctic dry valleys where very unique habitats exist, using both classical microbiology and novel genomics-based molecular techniques for studying microbial communities. These habitats include unique cold saline springs, permafrost and ground ice, and cryptoendolithic communities. These investigations explore the biodiversity, ecology, adaptations, and activity of microbial communities at subzero temperatures in cryoenvironments (subzero habitats) in an emerging field perhaps best described as cryomicrobiology. This area is presently very poorly understood but crucial for determining if such communities are active in situ at subzero temperatures and determining the impact of such activity on global biogeochemical cycling and the impact of global warming. The utility of these unique cryoenvironments as extraterrestrial analogs for astrobiology studies is also being examined and biotechnological applications of these microorganisms are being investigated in the longer term. The fundamental questions that my research addresses are:

a. What are the cold temperature limits of microbial life?

b. How do organisms survive in such extreme cryoenvironments?

c. Are microbial communities active at in-situ subzero temperatures in cryoenvironments and how can we detect such activity?


Current and future projects include:

  1. Effects of Climate Change on Permafrost Microbial Communities
  2. Stable Isotope Probing and “omic” Analyses of Permafrost Samples
  3. Microbial Ecology and Biodiversity of High Arctic Cold Saline Springs
  4. Characterization of Microorganisms Capable of Subzero Growth and Activity
    • Genome / transcriptomic sequencing of cryophilic microorganisms
    • Microbial bioprospecting of high Arctic strains and genetic resources for cold active enzymes and antimicrobials.
    • Culturing the unculturable: Isolation, indentification and characterization of novel polar microbes using cryo-ichip prototypes
  5. Astrobiology-Related Research
    • MICRO Life Detection Instrument Platform Developing and Testing (CSA)
    • Microbial diversity / ecology / activity in a Mars analogue Antarctic RSL.
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