Pointing Lab Singapore

@ National University of Singapore

Microbiology of Extreme Environments

The research group is led by Professor Steve Pointing who is passionate about the study of microbial life in extreme environments [Google Scholar]. Current research is focused on the microbial ecology of hot springs and deserts. Steve is particularly proud of the achievements by many postgraduate students and researchers that have been part of the group over the years, they have been central to the journey of discovery and made everything worthwhile.


Here are some outputs from our research in extreme environments

Cyanobacteria that are adapted to osmotic stress and desiccation thrive in extreme deserts


Projects have focused on the landscape ecology of cyanobacteria on rocky substrates in the extreme deserts of Asia, Africa, South America and Antarctica.

Sample publications:

  • Subsurface microbial habitats in an extreme desert Mars analog environment, Frontiers in Microbiology 10,69. [Frontiers]
  • Airborne microbial transport limitation to isolated Antarctic soil habitats, Nature Microbiology 4,925-932 [PubMed]
  • Stochastic and deterministic effects of a moisture gradient on soil microbial communities in the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica, Frontiers in Microbiology 9, 2619 [Frontiers]
  • Niche filtering of bacteria in soil and rock habitats of the Colorado Plateau Desert, Utah, Frontiers in Microbiology 7,1489 [Frontiers]
  • Advanced photogrammetry to assess lichen colonisation in the hyper-arid Namib Desert, Frontiers in Microbiology 8,2083 [Frontiers]
  • Global diversity of desert hypolithic cyanobacteria, Frontiers in Microbiology 8,867 [Frontiers]
  • Application of an unmanned aerial vehicle in spatial mapping of terrestrial biology and human disturbance in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, East Antarctica, Polar Biology 38:573-578. [Springer]
  • Microbial colonisation and controls in dryland systems, Nature Reviews Microbiology 10:551-562. [PubMed]
  • Functional ecology of an Antarctic dry valley, PNAS 110:8990-8995. [PubMed]
  • Stochastic and deterministic processes interact in the assembly of desert microbial communities on a global scale, The ISME Journal 5:1406-1413. [PubMed]
  • Ancient origins determine global biogeography of hot and cold desert cyanobacteria, Nature Communications 2:163. [PubMed]
  • Highly specialised microbial diversity in hyper-arid polar desert, PNAS 106:19964-19969. [PubMed]
  • Hypolithic community shifts occur as a result of liquid water availability along environmental gradients in China’s hot and cold hyperarid deserts, Environmental Microbiology 9:414-424. [PubMed]
  • Cyanobacterial ecology across environmental gradients and spatial scales in China’s hot and cold deserts, FEMS Microbiology Ecology 61,470482 [OUP]
  • Hypolithic cyanobacteria, dry limit of photosynthesis and microbial ecology in the hyperarid Atacama Desert, Microbial Ecology 52:389-398. [PubMed]
Hot springs support unique cyanobacteria that are adapted to life at high temperatures

Hot Springs

Projects have focused on heat-tolerant cyanobacteria (thermophiles) throughout Asia and their ecological interactions under hydrogeological stress.

Sample publications:

  • Early colonization of thermal niches in a silica depositing hot spring in central Tibet. Geobiology 6:136-146. [PubMed]
  • Thermophilic microbial mats in a tropical geothermal location display pronounced seasonal changes but appear resilient to stochastic disturbance. Environmental Microbiology 9:3065-3076. [PubMed]
  • The effects of temperature, pH and sulphide on community structure of hyper-thermophilic streamers in hot springs of northern Thailand, FEMS Microbiology Ecology 60:456-466. [PubMed]
  • Highly diverse community structure in a remote central Tibetan geothermal spring does not display monotonic variation to thermal stress, FEMS Microbiology Ecology 57:80-91. [PubMed]
  • Bacterial community composition in thermophilic microbial mats from five hot springs in central Tibet, Extremophiles 13:139-149. [PubMed]
  • Community phylogenetic diversity of cyanobacterial mats associated with geothermal springs along a tropical intertidal gradient, Extremophiles 10:159-163. [PubMed]
  • Community phylogenetic analysis of moderately thermophilic microbial mats from China, The Philippines and Thailand, Extremophiles 9:325-332. [PubMed]

Ongoing research:

The main focus of ongoing research is on the microbial ecology of hot springs throughout Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia’s hot springs support diverse thermophilic microbes

Enquiries are welcome:

Professor Steve Pointing, Pointing Lab Singapore

Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore, 16 Science Drive 4, Singapore 117558