Bonnie Baxter

Professor and Chair of Biology; Director of Great Salt Lake Institute

Westminster College


Dr. Baxter and her undergraduate students study Great Salt Lake microbiology and the chemistry, geology, and genetics that influence microbial diversity. Current work with NASA is focused on the survival of microorganisms and their biological molecules inside minerals, especially salt, and how these are preserved over geologic time and perhaps on Mars.

Title: Salinity and the Microbial Foundation of Great Salt Lake

Wednesday, May 9th, 9:50 AM

Abstract: Salinity gradients drive microbial diversity in Great Salt Lake, and the foundation of the food web is the community of microorganisms that inhabit the water, salt, and sediment of the lake. The species that make up this community may be overrepresented under some salinity conditions, and underrepresented under others. One way that the microorganisms respond to salinity changes by turning on and off genes that help them maintain their biology under challenging circumstances for life. Also, we have evidence that they also can survive in the fluid inclusions of salt crystals over time in salt-saturated brine. Finally, substances secreted by cyanobacteria may protect these critical phototrophs from desiccation and high salinity. All of these strategies are critical to maintaining a healthy ecosystem, especially to fuel the food web with nutrient turnover and primary production.


Why We Care

  • While photographing at The Great Salt Lake, I learned that it is a vastly different experience than other bodies of water. It is other-worldy, eerie, and beautiful at the same time. It is calming, peaceful, and a very inspirational place to be. Some may call the experience spiritual. Others may call it freeing. I call it magical.

    My favorite quote is by Loren Eisley; “If there is magic in this world, it is contained in water.” I absolutely believe that The Great Salt Lake is a place of magic, and that is what I strive to showcase.

    -- Tylyn Cullison, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant