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

  • Years ago the Great Salt Lake was a entertainment destination for the people of Salt Lake City. One of my ancestors had a vacation home near Black Rock, where he would take his family to escape the heat and cares of the city. That was a long time ago and a lot has changed since then. For many reasons the lake is not as popular as it once was. But it has been a source of peace, contemplation, and inspiration to me. I reflect on photos I have seen of the grand days of Saltair and the love of floating in the lake. I have done this myself on numerous occasions. I love the sensation of effortlessly floating. And we can escape the cares of the world.

    Clinton Whiting, Alfred Lambourne Prize Participant