Center for Life in Extreme Environments
The Center for Life in Extreme Environments (CLEE) seeks to foster transformative, interdisciplinary research to advance our understanding of the boundaries of life and to identify mechanisms for survival in future planetary extremes.

At Earth's extremes, life gets a little weird.

Fish that thrive beneath Antarctica’s polar ice. Acid-loving microbes inhabiting thermal vents at the ocean floor and hot springs on land. The amazing killifish, emerging from suspended animation in mud when the rains arrive in the hot, arid desert Southwest.  Mosses that live happily at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

These are just a few of the extreme adaptations studied by the over 80 researchers (faculty, staff and students) all of whom work in the Center for Life in Extreme Environments to answer questions such as:

"Where and how did life originate?" "What are the biological and chemical mechanisms needed for survival?" "How will life function under future planetary extremes?"

Goal: build actionable pathways forward to

  1. Conduct high quality, innovative, multidisciplinary science that: 1) continues to be at the forefront of international research, 2) attracts new researchers who expand the breadth of current focus and 3) provides insight into future climate conditions and human survival in planetary extremes.
  2. Train the next generation of scientists by creating interdisciplinary coursework and research experiences to provide undergraduate and graduate students with the skills, expertise, and knowledge to succeed in a competitive research environment.
  3. Forge interdisciplinary partnerships with industry, academic, government and non-profit collaborators  working on various aspects of environmental extremes, including arts, humanities, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and engineering. Great discoveries are made at the interfaces of disciplines. 
  4. Translate revolutionary research to broader scientific and non-scientific community by creating collaborative opportunities to engage with the public, industry partners, and scientists around the world.

CLEE by the Numbers:

2011 CLEE opened as a newly rennovated 12,000ft2 collaborative research space

14 tenure track faculty across 3 departments (Biology, Chemistry and Physics)

70-80 researchers/year  work in CLEE including tenure track/research faculty, staff, graduate students, undergraduates, visiting scholars

$18 million in research grant dollars generated from over 100 externally funded grants since 2011 (Granting agencies who support CLEE research include NASA, Keck, NSF, NIH, USFS, USGS, 3M Corporation and several private donors)

>225 publications in peer-reviewed journals since 2011, including several cover articles.







Integrating field and laboratory research

CLEE faculty and students study organisms from some fo the most extreme habitats on Earth, including:

  • Yellowstone and Lassen National Park       
  • Deep-sea hydrothermal vents
  • Marine oxyen minimum zones
  • Antarctica
  • Arctic
  • Deserts of the southwestern US
  • Coastal deserts of South America and Africa