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tedxbozeman 2018: Life, electrons, and aliens

Have you ever wondered what life actually is or whether it could exist on other planets? Luke redefines life by breaking it down into the fundamental concept of moving electrons around and then considers where else life might exist besides Earth. Watch "Life, Electrons, and Aliens" from TEDxBozeman below...

the most unknown

Luke is one of nine scientists featured in VICE Motherboard's first full-length documentary, The Most Unknown, which is on Netflix here . It covers topics such as life on other planets, consciousness, time (what is it?!), and dark matter. See the trailer below...


Who is Luke?

Hello there! My name is Luke and I am a scientist on planet Earth who is utterly captivated by the overwhelming diversity of life. Most of these lifeforms are invisible to the naked eye but they are ubiquitous and incredibly abundant—in fact, there are more of these organisms living associated with your body than your body’s own human cells. But they don’t stop there. Microbes live in the dirt under our feet, the ocean, hot springs, Antarctic ice, deep sea hydrothermal vents, animal guts, and even deep mud layers beneath the ocean. They are crucial to our understanding of global chemistry like the oxygenation of our atmosphere and the regulation of many greenhouse gases. They have the power to elucidate the evolutionary history of life on Earth and some of them may even provide clues as to where else life may exist in our solar system and beyond! Not to mention, there is likely a wealth of untapped medical and industrial applications that these microbes have to offer. 

In the grand scheme of things, though, we know very little about microbial life. Classical studies of microbiology were based on cultivation, or, growing organisms in isolation in a laboratory setting. However, only a minuscule fraction of extant microbial life has been captured in cultivation whereas the vast majority is still out there doin’ its thang, whatever that may be. That’s where I come in. My career is dedicated to understanding the “uncultivated majority” of microbial life via cultivation-independent methods. I use a variety of techniques, including stable isotope probing, fluorescent in-situ hybridization, metagenomics, and metatranscriptomics to scratch the surface of major unanswered questions regarding life. I use information from the DNA and RNA of a microbial community to inform enrichment and cultivation attempts of microbes who are recalcitrant to laboratory growth. I travel to extreme environments, which are likely similar to where life originated on our planet or extraterrestrial systems where it might exist, and I use all of these tools to investigate microbial life and how it survives under such conditions. 

I teach a class called Microbial Diversity, Ecology, and Evolution, and I work in a laboratory in the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University. I also run a business called Boom Biotech that helps people analyze nucleic acid datasets. I live in Bozeman, MT with my amazing companion, Greta, who is working on a project that uses art to address climate change. I love wilderness adventures, dancing, and rap music. My favorite movie is Hook and if you haven’t read The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin, I highly recommend it!


luke does things...

The Most Unknown Netflix release party & panel discussion, Ace Hotel, Los Angeles, August 10, 2018
ISME17 Conference, Leipzig, Germany, August 12 - 17, 2018


Luke did things...

Bozeman showing of The Most Unknown, The Rialto, June 1, 2018
"Life, Electrons, and Aliens" at TEDxBozeman, Montana, April 28, 2018
Red carpet premier and Q&A for The Most Unknown, NYC, April 18, 2018