From a young age Alan Barozzi, a marine science Ph.D. student in the KAUST Red Sea Research Center (RSRC), has been fascinated by the study of biology, and in particular microorganisms. Barozzi feels that with the subject of microbiology the avenues for discussion, experimentation, and discovery are endless. "Without microorganisms, no one will live. There are many things to discuss when it comes to microbiology and microorganisms—they fascinate me," he noted.
Prior to joining KAUST in January 2015, Barozzi completed his M.S. in Biology at The University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy. It was in his native Italy where he first worked with his current supervisor, Professor Daniele Daffonchio. It was the presence of Daffonchio at KAUST that prompted Barozzi to join the University to complete his Ph.D. studies.
"When I finished my thesis at Milano-Bicocca I knew that Professor Daffonchio was already at KAUST and so I got in touch with him about continuing my studies here. He told me that KAUST was a new university with lots of potential and I thought that it was a great opportunity to do my Ph.D. work in a such a multicultural place," Barozzi said.
As a member of the KAUST Extreme Systems Microbiology Lab, Barozzi's research concentrates on the study of brine pools. More specifically, brine pools that are present in the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico. A brine pool is a body of water that has a very high salinity having been formed from the redissolution of previous forms of sediments on the ocean basin. The salinity levels of these brine pools can vary from three to six times higher than the oceans surrounding them.
"When the brine is formed this salt dissolves in the water, and so the salinity can reach more than 200 grams per liter. That is five times the normal salinity of the sea water. Thus, stratification occurs between the normal seawater column and the brine pool," he noted.
"My colleagues and I are trying to understand what are the microorganisms that develop in these pools, and also what are their metabolisms because these environments are characterized by extreme conditions, such as high salinity, high pressure, anoxic conditions and in some case high temperature.
"For example, in the Red Sea there are different types of brines, with different compositions, and they are always challenging microorganisms that live there. And so, we are trying to investigate how these microorganisms can live in these testing environments," Barozzi explained.
KAUST has provided him with a unique opportunity thanks to the availability of high-quality resources and equipment, plus the valued input of his fellow researchers in the RSRC. In Barozzi's opinion, the time and resources afforded to scientists to pursue their research is what truly sets KAUST apart from its fellow global institutions.
"Elsewhere, there are not the options that you have here at KAUST and in the RSRC. In the Mediterranean Sea there are other hypersaline basins, but in Italy, it was harder to obtain a research vessel to carry out fieldwork studies on microorganisms in the deep sea. There is no such problem here, especially with such facilities like the Coastal Marine Core Lab and the natural laboratory that is the Red Sea right here beside us.
"KAUST has almost everything that I need to carry out my work as a researcher. At KAUST, I think I have more opportunity to develop my research. Research that will hopefully create a positive impact both here for Saudi Arabia and globally," Barozzi concluded.