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Untangling the dry limit for microbial life in rock-inhabiting communities of US Western drylands


The effects of global warming are particularly pronounced in drylands, leading to their fast degradation and hampering the capacity to support active life. In an era of fast desertification, DRYLIFE seeks to identify those conditions that determine the dry limit for microbial life in the US Western drylands where a temperature increase up to 3°C associated to increases in aridity is expected by the end of the century. DRYLIFE will answer the key question using endolithic communities, simple and stable microbial communities dwelling inside rocks ubiquitous in drylands worldwide, as paradigmatic model system. In hyper-arid regions, in particular, once the threshold of dry tolerability for plants and soil microbes is crossed, endoliths represent the latest possibility for life, regulating water retention and nutrient cycles and creating positive feedback for ecological successions. DRYLIFE will be carried out in leading US and EU research laboratories by undertaking an interdisciplinary approach to address fundamental questions about how tiny microbes may have global-scale impact. This bottom-up project will combine amplicon sequencing, shotgun metagenomics, micro-environmental monitoring, geomicrobiology, and machine learning. Data generated will be translated, for the first time, into predictive models to better understand endolithic communities functioning and adaptations under global change, addressing a key knowledge gap. While my previous pioneering studies on Antarctic endoliths laid the basis for DRYLIFE, this Action will broaden my research and training skills and widen my professional networks, leading to a critical career development boost as an independent researcher. DRYLIFE will likely have the potential to improve projection of future climate impact on drylands, help tackle a timely global challenge of outmost importance to the Horizon Europe program, inform the next-generation of drylands ecologists, and, finally, provide evidence for policy makers.


Net EU contribution
€ 265 099,20
Via S Maria In Gradi 4
01100 Viterbo

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Centro (IT) Lazio Viterbo
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Non-EU contribution
No data