Hi, ya'll: UAB researchers go to Antarctica

(source UAB)
(source UAB)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A team of UAB researchers is preparing to leave the relative warmth of Birmingham for 3 months in one of the coldest places on earth, Antarctica.

"Yes it is cold, but I wouldn't call it uninviting," said Dr. Chuck Amsler, one of the team's leaders. "It's actually a magnificent place. Above the water, the scenery is spectacular and the vistas are just incredible."

Dr. Amsler will help lead a team of researchers from UAB that include grad students, and his wife.

"It's marvelous, I wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything," said Maggie Amsler, a UAB research assistant.

"The most incredible scenery you could ever imagine," said Dr. James McClintock, the team's other leader. "The trip of a lifetime."

The UAB team will be part of a group of 44 researchers and staff spending 24 hours a day with each other, and no one else, until May. Though they love the penguins and whales they see during their stay, these researchers will be diving into the frigid waters studying something a little less famous.

"There are truly underwater forests of macroalgae or seaweed, and I'm a seaweed guy, so it's a great place," Dr. Amsler said.    

Some of those underwater plants produce chemicals that may one day save human lives.

"A suit of compounds from one of these blobby things called a colonial tunicate that lives on the bottom, and the compounds from it, at least in mice, which as far as it's gotten at this stage, do a really good job of killing some nasty forms of melanoma," Dr. Amsler said.

"Could you imagine how exciting it would be if something to fight skin cancer came from a sea squirt?" Dr. McClintock said. "This little blob that grows on the bottom of the ocean in Antarctica?"

Answering those questions has brought these researchers back enough that each now has an Antarctic island named after the Amslers and Dr. McClintock.

"That's one I'm still trying to come to grips with," Maggie Amsler said. "In part because over the years, I saw that island emerge, and it's just something I still don't have a handle on, to be honest with you."

The three leave for another trip next week.