Microbiologists from the UWM set off to the Antarctic

dr Górniak
Dr. Dorota Górniak and Prof. Dr. Habilit. Aleksander Świątecki of the Department of Microbiology and Mycology are setting off to the Antarctic in January. They are planning to conduct research at the Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station on King George Island for 4 months in harsh, polar conditions.

The secret of Arctic lichens

The pair of scientists from the UWM Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology are set to begin a research project in the Antarctic. Dr. Dorota Górniak and Prof. Dr. Habilit. Aleksander Świątecki will stay at the Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station in Admiralty Bay of King George Island in the South Shetland Islands. They will conduct microbiological research.

- We are going to look into the bacteria present in the Antarctic lichens. It is an interesting subject as we know very little about these microorganisms. The polar microbiology has been my main subject of interest for many years. I have participated in research projects concerning microorganisms in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. We cooperate with many research institutes in Poland, including the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Centre of Antarctic Biology – says Dr. Dorota Górniak, who is taking part in the expedition.

The scientists hope to find such arctic microorganisms which could have biochemical potential to be used in medicine, for the production of antibiotics and biopolymers.

By plane, by sea and then … hitching a ride

The scientists will go to the Henryk Arctowski station by plane in January. It will be a multi-phased journey – first from Warsaw to Santiago de Chile, then to Punta Arenas in Patagonia on Tierra del Fuego, from where a Hercules military transport aircraft will take them to a Chilean arctic station.

- We will make the last leg of the journey by sea, on condition that we catch a ride. We will speak to the captains of every vessel going to the Polish station and try to get on board – says Dr. Górniak.

 

The luggage of the scientists already made the journey in September. It took a month and a half to get there by boat.

- We had to pack nearly the whole of our laboratory, research equipment, materials and reagents. We cannot afford to forget anything, as that would render our research incomplete. Everything was packed into special aluminium boxes to survive the journey. The most precious equipment, the delicate measuring equipment in particular, is travelling in the cabins; the other things in the luggage compartments – explains Dr. Górniak.

What is the Arctowski station known for

The scientists will stay in the so-called summer cottages, where laboratories are housed. The people who stay over the winter live in the main building of the station.

- To be honest, the living conditions are rather Spartan, but we are going to be so busy that we will just sleep in these houses – laughs Dr. Górniak.

The living conditions at the station are harsh, but the cuisine is excellent, even exquisite. The chef cooks the meals which are served regularly. The scientists will also have Polish confectionery.

- They are popular with our colleagues from Brazil, Chile or Argentina; they are easily available and tempting, so you need to exercise your self-control – adds Dr. Górniak.

A visit to the arctic station involves meeting the local animals; they are both magnificent and harmless, says Dr. Górniak.

- There are no polar bears. As for large animals, there are elephant seals and penguins of various species. They are very friendly animals who live in herds and can be observed in herds. We are lucky that our station lies close to one of the largest penguin colony sites in the island; all you need to do is to sit down on a stone and you will soon be surrounded by penguins who take a keen interest in people. There are also sea lions, which could be dangerous, as they sometimes chase people away from their territory – says Dr. Górniak.

This is already the fifth polar expedition of Dr. Górniak; Prof. Aleksander Świątecki will be there for the third time. Another scientist who belongs to this polar circle is Prof. Irena Giełwanowska from the Department of Plant Physiology and Biotechnology at the UWM Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology. She has been to the Antarctic twice and spent almost an entire year at the Arctowski station. It is thanks to her that the greenhouses in Kortowo gardens have a collection of 17 species of graminoids and caryophyllaceae from both the Arctic and Antarctic which is unique in Poland.

Małgorzata Hołubowska