Life in Extreme Environments: A PLOS Cross-Journal Call for Papers

– The submission deadline for this Collection has been extended to October 25, 2019 –

– Guest Editors –

Ruth Blake

Daniel Colman

Paola Di Donato

Felipe Gomez

Jiasong Fang

Anna Metaxas

Karen Olsson-Francis

David Pearce

Frank Reith

Henrik Sass

– Calls for Papers for a PLOS Cross-Journal Collection –  

The study of life in extreme environments is a highly interdisciplinary subject, which helps further the understanding of the biological and biogeochemical processes taking place in various environments on the Earth generally considered hostile to life. Life in extreme environments tells us about the limits of life, and in turn, about the possibility of life beyond the Earth. PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology are delighted to announce a Call for Papers on the topic of Life in Extreme Environments, bringing together studies from different disciplines such as biosciences, geosciences, planetary sciences, oceanography and related disciplines in order to shed light on this crucial topic, and to present this research to the broad readership of PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology.

This interdisciplinary topic helps us better understand the biodiversity of life on Earth, and the biological processes, geochemistry and nutrient cycling taking place in many of the Earth’s most inhospitable environments, and enables us to make inferences about the potential for life beyond the Earth. Microorganisms and other life in extreme environments are fundamental agents of geochemical and nutrient cycling, in many of the most poorly understood environments on the Earth. A particular set of challenges is present when studying extreme environments, such as the problem of detecting small cell numbers and slow metabolisms, as well as contamination and false positives introduced during sampling and analysis. We particularly welcome submissions with a strong interdisciplinary focus, and papers seeking to improve methodology for sampling and characterizing extreme environments.

Example topics include:

  • Life in the deep terrestrial and marine subsurface
  • Life in the deep oceans, for instance around hydrothermal vents, hadal trenches and deep hypersaline anoxic basins
  • Life in hot and cold environments, for instance deserts, hot springs, polar environments and subglacial environments
  • Life in various types of chemically extreme environments, such as halophiles and acidophiles
  • Life in heavy metal-rich environments
  • Life at energetic and redox extremes
  • Microbe-mineral/rock interactions
  • Viruses and microbe-virus interactions in extreme environments
  • The contribution of life to biogeochemical cycling in extreme environments
  • Astrobiology and the potential for and search for life beyond Earth
  • Aerobiology, microbial dispersal and colonisation of novel environments
  • Developing a quantitative understanding of the effect of life in extreme environments
  • Cellular and physiological adaptations to extreme conditions, and effects of extreme conditions on the thermodynamics of life
  • Techniques for improving sampling and detection in extreme environments
  • Biotechnology derived from the study of extreme life

Articles should be submitted by the 27th of September. Accepted articles that fall into the scope described above will be included in a cross-journal Collection that will be published in early 2020. When submitting, please specify in your cover letter that you are submitting to the “Life in Extreme Environments” Call for Papers.  


Meet the Editors

Ruth Blake

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Ruth Blake is a Professor in the departments of Geology & Geophysics and Environmental Engineering, and in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies at Yale University. Dr. Blake's areas of expertise include marine biogeochemistry, stable isotope geochemistry and geomicrobiology. Her recent work focuses on developing new stable isotope tools, geochemical proxies and biomarkers to study marine/microbial phosphorus cycling and evolution of the phosphorus cycle from pre-biotic to recent.

Dr. Blake is engaged in a range of studies on co- evolution of earth and life and the impacts of both on biogeochemical processes occurring in the oceans, deep-sea sediments, seafloor hydrothermal systems and the sub-seafloor deep biosphere. Dr. Blake has participated in several ocean exploration/ research expeditions including cruises to: FeMO observatory at Loihi undersea volcano, 9°N EPR, Orca Basin in the Gulf of Mexico and North Pond in the mid-Atlantic. She has also served as shipboard scientist on Ocean Drilling Program and R/V Atlantis /DSV ALVIN platforms. Ruth Blake graduated from the University of Michigan in 1998 with a PhD in geochemistry.

Daniel Colman

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Dan is currently an assistant research professor at Montana State University and is an environmental microbiologist with primary research interests in broadly understanding how microbial populations interact with one another and with their environments. To investigate these broad topics, he uses a suite of interdisciplinary techniques at the intersection of environmental microbiology, biogeochemistry, geomicrobiology, microbial physiology, geochemistry, hydrology, and microbial evolution.

In particular, his work leverages environmental genomics methods coupled to in situ and laboratory experiments along with geochemical insights from hydrological and geochemical analyses to understand 1) how and why environments structure micobial communities, 2) how microbial communities shape their environments, and 3) how environments and microbial populations have co- evolved through time. In particular, he has largely focused on evaluating these questions in extreme environments, and especially hydrothermal systems, which represent an excellent platform to deconvolute microbial-environment relationships across substantial environmental gradients.

Paola Di Donato

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Graduated in Chemistry, Paola received her PhD in 2002 and since 2008 she is a Researcher in Biochemistry at the Department of Science and Technology of University of Naples “Parthenope”; in 2016 she has been appointed as the Dean’s delegate to managing the Institutional Repository of the University “Parthenope”.

Her research interests are the valorisation of waste vegetable biomass and the study of extremophilic bacteria. With regard to the first topic, her research focuses on the recovery of value added chemicals (polysaccharides and polyphenols) and the production of energy (bioethanol) from wastes of vegetables food industry and of dedicated crops (giant reed, cardoon). With regard to the study of extremophilic bacteria, her research activity is aimed at studying the biotechnologically useful biomolecules (enzymes and exopolysaccharides) produced by these bacteria; in the last seven years, particular attention has been paid to the study of extremophiles in relation to Astrobiology, the multidisciplinary approach to the study of origin and evolution of life on Earth and in the Universe.

Felipe Gómez

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Dr. Felipe Gómez is a senior staff scientist at the CAB. His research work focuses on the study of extreme environments, limits of life and, by extrapolation, development of habitability potential in adverse environments. He participates in Mars exploration space missions to search for traces of life and study the habitability potential of the red planet. He is currently part of the scientific team (Co-Investigator) of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) instrument aboard the NASA Curiosity-MSL rover that is studying the surface of Mars at this time. Dr. Felipe Gómez is Co-I of MEDA instrument that will be onboard Mars2020 NASA mission to Mars.

He has been part of the scientific team of several campaigns of astrobiological interest in studying different extreme environments. The project M.A.R.T.E. (Mars Analogue Research and Technology Development) began in 2003 and extended until 2006. Its principal investigator was Dr. Carol Stocker of NASA Ames Research Center. This project was funded by NASA within NASA's ASTEP program for the development of technology for future space missions. This project was developed with the collaboration of several institutions in the United States and CAB. It consisted in the study of the subterranean environment of the zone of origin of the Tinto River (Huelva) where several perforations were made (160 m deeper) until reaching the anoxic zone isolated from the surface. The ultimate goal of the project was the design and development of an automatic platform for drilling without direct human intervention (automatic drilling) on ​​the surface of Mars. This project was the beginning of research into the development of automatic drilling instruments for this purpose. It was developed in three phases: first and second year with non-automatic perforations and "in situ" study of the samples that were obtained in real time. In the third year, the automatic platform was implemented.

Jiasong Fang

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Jiasong Fang is a professor in the College of Natural and Computational Sciences of Hawaii Pacific University, Distinguished Chair Professor in the College of Marine Sciences of Shanghai Ocean University, and Director of the Shanghai Engineering Research Center of Hadal Science and Technology. Dr. Fang received his Ph.D. in oceanography from Texas A&M University and did his postdoctoral training at the Department of Microbiology of Miami University.

His scientific interests are primarily in the areas of high-pressure microbiology and biogeochemistry, focusing on piezophilic microorganisms and their role in mediating biogeochemical cycles in the deep ocean and the deep biosphere. He has co-authored 100 scientific publications.

Anna Metaxas

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Dr. Anna Metaxas is a Professor in Oceanography at Dalhousie University. She received a B.Sc. in Biology from McGill University in 1986, a MSc in Oceanography from the University of British Columbia in 1989 and a PhD from Dalhousie University in 1994. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution from 1995 to 1997, and a Postdoctoral Scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1997 to 1999.

Her research focuses on the factors that regulate populations of benthic marine invertebrates, particularly early in their life history. She uses a combination of approaches, such as field sampling, laboratory experiments and mathematical modelling, to study organisms of ecological and economic importance, including invasive species. She has worked in a variety of habitats from shallow rocky subtidal regions to the deep-sea, including hydrothermal vents and deep- water corals, in temperate and tropical regions of the world. Her research has implications for marine conservation, such as the establishment and success of conservation areas for benthic populations.

Karen Olsson-Francis

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Dr. Karen Olsson-Francis is a Senior Lecturer at the Open University, in the United Kingdom. Her research focuses on understanding the role that microorganisms play in biogeochemical cycling in extreme environments. She is interested in this from a diversity and functional prospective. In particular, she has focused on studying terrestrial analogue sites and utilizing this information to understand how, and where, potential evidence of life can be found elsewhere in the Solar System.

David Pearce

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

The underlying theme of David Pearce’s research is to use microbiology (and in particular novel molecular techniques applied to microbial ecology, microbial biodiversity and activity, environmental genomics, biogeochemical cycling and model extremophiles) to understand Polar ecosystem function and the potential for shifts in biogeochemical activity that may result from environmental change. He has taken the lead in the development of new frontiers of research in metagenomics, chemosynthetic communities, sediment sequestration of carbon and subglacial lake environments and have initiated new interdisciplinary approaches on the aerial environment (with chemists), ice nucleation activity (with physicists) and in the biogeochemistry of ice (with glaciologists).

Frank Reith

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Frank Reith is an Associate Professor in geomicrobiology at the School of Biological Sciences at University of Adelaide and CSIRO Land and Water, where he heads the Microbes and Heavy Metal Research Group. He holds a PhD in Earth Sciences from the Australian National University. He is interested in microbial processes that affect metal cycling and the formation of new minerals. In turn, he also studies how microbes are affected by elevated concentrations of heavy metals in extreme environments. His particular interests lie in the biomediated cycling of noble/heavy metals, e.g., gold, silver, platinum, uranium, osmium and iridium.

An important aim of the fundamental processes understanding created by his research is to use it to develop tools for industry, e.g., biosensors and bioindicators for mineral exploration, as well as biotechnological methods for mineral processing and resource recovery from electronic waste. Thereby, his approach is highly multidisciplinary and covers field expeditions to remote corners of the Earth, synchrotron research, meta-genomic and proteomic approaches as well as statistical-, geochemical- and reactive transport modelling.

Henrik Sass

Guest Editor, PLOS ONE and PLOS Biology

Dr. Henrik Sass is senior lecturer in Geomicrobiology at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences of Cardiff University. He received his PhD from the University of Oldenburg (Germany).

Henrik is a biogeochemist, geomicrobiologist and microbial physiologist with a special interest in anaerobic processes and the prokaryotes involved, such as the strictly anaerobic sulphate reducers and methanogens. He has been working on anaerobic metabolism and described new metabolic pathways in methanogens. One main topic of his research is life in the extreme environments, particularly life in the deep biosphere and in deep-sea anoxic brine lakes. These studies aim to reveal how anaerobes adapt to their particular ecological niches (e.g. oxygen tolerance of sulphate reducers). His work utilizes a range of different approaches including in situ activity measurements and the estimation of viable population sizes, but also culture-based laboratory experiments. Another aspect of his work has been the use of biomarkers, including dipicolinic acid for the detection of endospores in environmental samples.

PLOS ONE Handling Editors

Varenyam Achal Julian Aherne William J Brazelton Lee Cooper
Sabato D'Auria Sébastien Duperron Qi Fu Clemens Glombitza
Bob Goldstein Magnus Ivarsson Steffen Kiel Ram Kumar
Delphine Lannuzel Ana R. Lopes James R. Lyons Christof Pearce
Riikka Rinnan John M. Senko Xiaole Sun Kay Vopel
  Hongbo Zhao Liping Zhu  


PLOS Papers Illustrating the Collection Scope

Crystal structure and functional characterization of a cold-active acetyl xylan esterase (PbAcE) from psychrophilic soil microbe Paenibacillus sp.

Authors: Sun-Ha Park, Wanki Yoo, Chang Woo Lee, Chang Sook Jeong, Seung Chul Shin, Han-Woo Kim, Hyun Park, Kyeong Kyu Kim, T. Doohun Kim, Jun Hyuck Lee

PLOS ONEOctober 31, 2018

Identification of osmoadaptive strategies in the halophile, heterotrophic ciliate Schmidingerothrix salinarum

Authors: Lea Weinisch, Steffen Kühner, Robin Roth, Maria Grimm, Tamara Roth, Daili J. A. Netz, Antonio J. Pierik, Sabine Filker 

PLOS BiologyJanuary 22, 2018

Can Plants Grow on Mars and the Moon: A Growth Experiment on Mars and Moon Soil Simulants

Authors: G. W. Wieger Wamelink, Joep Y. Frissel, Wilfred H. J. Krijnen, M. Rinie Verwoert, Paul W. Goedhart

PLOS ONEAugust 24, 2014

Vertically distinct microbial communities in the Mariana and Kermadec trenches

Authors: Logan M. Peoples, Sierra Donaldson, Oladayo Osuntokun, Qing Xia, Alex Nelson, Jessica Blanton, Eric E. Allen, Matthew J. Church, Douglas H. Bartlett 

PLOS ONEApril 5, 2018

Comparative genomics of the tardigrades Hypsibius dujardini and Ramazzottius varieornatus

Authors: Yuki Yoshida, Georgios Koutsovoulos, Dominik R. Laetsch, Lewis Stevens, Sujai Kumar, Daiki D. Horikawa, Kyoko Ishino, Shiori Komine, Takekazu Kunieda, Masaru Tomita, Mark Blaxter, Kazuharu Arakawa

PLOS BiologyJuly 27, 2017

Factors Controlling Soil Microbial Biomass and Bacterial Diversity and Community Composition in a Cold Desert Ecosystem: Role of Geographic Scale​

Authors: David J. Van Horn, M. Lee Van Horn, John E. Barrett, Michael N. Gooseff, Adam E. Altrichter, Kevin M. Geyer, Lydia H. Zeglin, Cristina D. Takacs-Vesbach

PLOS ONEJune 18, 2013

Intricate tunnels in garnets from soils and river sediments in Thailand – Possible endolithic microboring

Authors: Magnus Ivarsson, Henrik Skogby, Bongkot Phichaikamjornwut, Stefan Bengtson, Sandra Siljeström, Prayote Ounchanum, Apichet Boonsoong, Mingkhwan Kruachanta, Federica Marone, Veneta Belivanova, Sara Holmström

PLOS ONEAugust 8, 2018

A Submersible, Off-Axis Holographic Microscope for Detection of Microbial Motility and Morphology in Aqueous and Icy Environments

Authors: Christian A. Lindensmith, Stephanie Rider, Manuel Bedrossian, J. Kent Wallace, Eugene Serabyn, G. Max Showalter, Jody W. Deming, Jay L. Nadeau

PLOS ONEJanuary 26, 2016


Publishing Process

We aim to be as transparent as possible about our publishing and peer review processes. Papers submitted to PLOS ONE and under consideration for the Life in Extreme Environments Collection will be specially handled by hand-selected active researchers from our Editorial Board working in this area, in partnership with staff editor Hanna Landenmark.

PLOS Biology is a highly selective Open Access journal that features Research Articles, Short Reports and Methods & Resources articles of exceptional significance, originality, and quality in all areas of biological science, from molecules to ecosystems, including works at the interface of other disciplines, such as chemistry, medicine, and mathematics. In addition to outstanding Research Articles, we also publish provocative Short Reports, which can be based on a more limited number of experiments, and exceptional Methods and Resources. The journal has a unique editorial model, which combines expert Academic Editors and professional editors on every peer reviewed paper, resulting in expertise, fairness and efficiency.

Authors are advised to select the appropriate journal based on each journal’s scope criteria. Submissions that do not meet the criteria or scope for PLOS Biology may be offered the opportunity to transfer to PLOS ONE.

For more information please see the Editorial and Peer Review Information page for PLOS ONE or PLOS Biology, as relevant. 


Submission Instructions

Are you ready to submit or want to learn more about how the submission process works? To make it as easy as possible for our communities, PLOS ONE has all of our submission instructions posted online. If there are any general queries or if you have any questions for PLOS ONE, please email us at

Submission instructions for PLOS Biology are posted here and questions can be directed to

Authors should specify the Call for Papers, “Life in Extreme Environments,” in their cover letter and, additionally for PLOS ONE, in the ‘Collections and Calls for Papers’ field under ‘Additional Information’ on the submission form.


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