Casey Engstrom, MSc student

After four years of ricocheting across the continent as a rock climber and itinerant ornithologist, I stumbled across Dr. Quarmby’s musings about snow algae and decided to apply on the spot. I was drawn by the promise of unexplored ecosystems and wild mountains, as well as tackling the burgeoning fields of bioinformatics and environmental flow cytometry. Many species of snow algae have different morphologies at different life phases, making microscopic identification a challenge. I am using fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) to separate different cell types from field samples, and then using amplicon barcoding to unambiguously match morphology with genetic identity. This will inform our efforts to answer persistent mysteries about snow algae bloom formation: are they seeded by spores deposited by wind or snow, or do cells swim up from the base of the snow pack? When and how do cells propagate?