Director: Cristina Dorador Ortiz

Deputy Director: José Luis Vega

University: Universidad de Antofagasta


Extreme environments are generally defined as environments that exhibit conditions ‘unfavourable’ for the development and maintenance of life. This anthropocentric point of view contrasts with actual diversity and distribution of organisms found in such seemingly unhospitable environments. Extreme environments typically display an array of fluctuating conditions (T°, pH, solar radiation, aridity), and taxa found there have developed specific adaptations to live under these ‘polyextreme’ conditions. The Altiplano and Patagonia regions are located at the geographical extremes of Chile, but both are part of the cold biosphere. The Altiplano is the high plateau of the Andes and contain several saline aquatic ecosystems and freshwater peatlands. Subantartic environments in Patagonia also include different saline and freshwater aquatic systems, and in Tierra del Fuego, globally unique wetlands/bogs. Extreme environments are dynamic, and a range of taxa, including humans, have shown the capacity to develop and adapt to life there. We postulate that bioactive compounds (i.e. molecules with biological activity) produced by different organisms in response to stress conditions also mediate adaptation to polyextreme environments. To test this, we propose to study target key taxa (e.g. microorganisms, Arthropoda, plants) found in different aquatic systems from Altiplano and Patagonia in order to understand specific adaptations and to obtain bioactive compounds. The biological activity of these compounds will be assessed through an array of in vitro and physiological assays including: antiproliferative assay, ROS scavenger assay, ischemia-reperfusion injury, among others. Considering the limited knowledge that exists regarding specific adaptations to extreme conditions in humans, this project will contribute to our understanding of specific human responses to high altitudes, including the development of biomarkers. Finally, as a transversal objective, the project proposes to characterise anthropological representations of extreme environments, in relation to the different themes covered by the proposal.

This interdisciplinary project will contribute to our detailed understanding of how adaptations to extreme conditions are expressed -biologically and socially- and are reflected through the production of bioactive compounds and the developing of specific biomarkers. The project is organized in 5 work packages (objectives) including: 1) Environment; 2) Biodiversity; 3) Bioactive compounds; 4) Biomarkers and adaptations; 5) Anthropological representations. We expect to have significant impact on the generation of knowledge regarding local biodiversity, adaptation mechanisms, novel bioactive compounds and the social context that will allow us to communicate and incorporate scientific knowledge in wider society. Diffusion and outreach activities play a crucial role in the proposed project. Additionally, this project will allow the interaction of different research areas and investigators of the three member universities of NEXER. Importantly, we incorporate young researchers and students at different levels throughout the project.

Associate researchers

  • Jorge Valdés
  • Catherine Lizama
  • Glauco Morales
  • Juan Silva Urra
  • Mailing Rivera
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