BMSIS Scientist Feature: Dr. Rika Anderson

Dr. Rika Anderson specializes in questions concerning the evolution of microbial life with its environment.

She is currently an assistant professor at Carleton College in the Biology department, but her lab collaborates with scientists across disciplines to connect biology with astronomy, geology, oceanography, and atmospheric sciences. Her current lab uses bioinformatic techniques to look at microbial and viral evolution in hydrothermal vent environments, investigating how these microbial species arise, spread, and adapt to new environments by looking at their genetic information. Dr. Anderson is also interested in the interplay between archaea, bacteria, and viruses in such environments, and how genes may be shared between these groups.

Additionally, the lab is a part of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington, whose goal is to determine how life may behave on other planets, and in turn how other planets may change in response to the presence and even abundance of life. To contribute to this goal, Dr. Anderson and her team investigate questions concerning microbial life on Earth to have better understanding of how early life on Earth evolved with the changing environment. Dr. Anderson works both in the field at ocean sites around the world and in the lab, where she and her lab members carry out their genomic analyses of extremophile microbes and study their behavior.

Dr. Anderson is an established expert in her field of hydrothermal environments and the life that occupies them. She has worked with the Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Dr. Anderson obtained her Ph.D. in Oceanography & Astrobiology at the University of Washington in 2013, with her dissertation title of “Ecological and evolutionary strategies of archaeal, bacterial, and viral communities in deep-sea hydrothermal vents” covering a broad spectrum of inquiry that she still investigates today. For her master’s thesis in Oceanography, she studied a particular viral community in a deep-sea hydrothermal vent using CRISPR technology and metagenomic analysis. Dr. Anderson ended up returning to her undergraduate alma mater of Carleton College in her current position as an assistant professor and lab leader.

Dr. Anderson has an active Twitter page where she shares updates and shout-outs related to oceanography, deep sea science, bioinformatics, astrobiology, and more. She spends most of her time teaching both in the classroom and out in the field, usually at sea, as she pursues her research. In between her busy research and teaching life, she also speaks regularly at various seminars and schools to promote science literacy.

Written by BMSIS YSP Research Associate Brooke Carruthers. Brooke is working on the YSP project “An Internship with the Center for Life Detection Science”. Brooke is also a student at the University of Arizona (UA) and a member of the Kaçar Research Group.