Magdalena R. Osburn

2017 Fellow

Current Institution: Northwestern University


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About Magdalena R. Osburn's Work

As a geobiologist working at the geochemistry-microbiology interface, Osburn proposes to illuminate the subterranean biome. Microbial intraterrestrials drive much of Earth’s chemical engine, but without cultivation, their metabolisms, isotope effects, and biosignatures remain obscure. Osburn will reveal these traits by merging cutting-edge techniques in microbiology, geochemistry, and engineering. By cultivating so-called microbial dark matter, she will refine the requirements for life on Earth and beyond, populate the tree of life, and identify novel natural products. Osburn plans to cultivate microbial dark matter from a familiar site, the former Homestake Mine. Microbes surviving without light or air underground often elude laboratory cultivation. Her new approach pairs genomic techniques with custom growth chambers that cater to microbial needs and simulate viable subterranean environments, where these sensitive organisms can reveal their prolific secrets about genetics, geochemistry, and evolution.