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Alan Harker

Academic Vice President's Office

Research Interests
Microorganisms have either arisen in or adapted to almost all niches on earth. Included in these are peculiar environments that seem hostile or at least non-conducive to life. The Great Salt Lake is the major remnant of ancient Lake Bonneville, varying by locality between 5 and 27% salinity.

The enormous size of the lake offers a variety of unique microenvironments (petroleum seeps, thermal springs, salt and freshwater springs, etc). Each of these microenvironments offers a combination of physical and chemical parameters secondary to salinity. Each dissipates from a central source creating gradient effects and potential metabolic island effects.

We assume that organisms adapted to the elevated hydrocarbon levels at Rozel Point might be restricted in their ability to occupy space in other parts of the lake. Conversely, the microflora of the main body of the lake might have difficulty at Rozel. The combination of hydrocarbon utilization/tolerance and salt tolerance may make them unique in many other ways.

Classical biological and microbiological studies have found in the lake a limited variety of identifiable halophiles that have adapted to the various levels of salinity. Modern molecular techniques have been applied in only a limited way to the study of the Great Salt Lake and the unique sites described in this proposal have never been explored. We are engaged in an integrated exploration of these sites based on molecular, genetic, physiological, and physical characterization. We are creating integrated models of the site ecosystems to account for determined populations, metabolic activities, resource utilization and flux, gene flow, etc. These are to be collated across seasonal variations.

Academic - Post-Secondary

  • Associate Academic Vice President, Brigham Young University, 2010-Present

Courses Taught
Summer 2015

  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 037

Spring 2015

  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 035

Winter 2015

  • MMBIO 695R: Research Section 018
  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 010

Spring 2013

  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 007


Journal Articles

Aanderud ZT, Vert JC, Lennon JT, Magnusson TW, Breakwell DP, Harker AA. 2016. Bacterial Dormancy Is More Prevalent in Freshwater than Hypersaline Lakes. Frontiers in Microbiology. 7.