BYU professor tries to unlock mystery in Antarctica

BYU biologist Byron Adams stands in his lab with two graduate students (Photo: Daniel Woodruff / KUTV)

(KUTV) A BYU professor is getting ready to travel to the end of the earth, trying to unlock a mystery that could have a big impact on all of us.

Byron Adams, a professor of biology, has made it his life's work to understand how tiny creatures unique to Antarctica have survived through the years on that continent.

"It's a big question," Adams said. "It's a really cool question, and we really don't have the answer to that."

He and two graduate students are preparing to travel there again in December to continue their search for understanding. Josh Heward, a Timpanogos High School teacher, will also travel with the group as part of a grant that pays for teachers to work with researchers. But it's a long trip.

"It takes at least twice as long in order to get to the dry valleys as it does to the moon," Adams said.

They plan to work for about a month and bring back more samples to their lab at Brigham Young University. One of the creatures they study is the nematode worm. Adams said it has persisted even through the ice age.

"These organisms can avoid the problem of freezing by becoming freeze-dried," Adams said.

By learning more about that, he said, perhaps people could do the same things -- with plants, blood, or even themselves in space travel.

"Maybe we could learn something from the nematode worm about how to put humans into suspended animation," said Adams.

Certainly, that's a long way off. For now, Adams just hopes to figure out how Antarctic life keeps going in one of the roughest places on earth.

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