Brian Hedlund

Professor, Life Sciences
Expertise: Microbial Ecology and Genomics, Life at High Temperature, Astrobiology, Biotechnology and Biofuels, International Collaboration (China)


Brian Hedlund’s research focuses on life in high temperature habitats, especially geothermal springs in the Western U.S. and China. The study of high-temperature ecosystems (>73°C) is a research frontier because temperature alters the ecology of these systems in ways that are important but poorly understood, and because some springs are hot spots for novel, uncultivated organisms, or so-called “microbial dark matter”.

To understand how individual microorganisms operate as part of high temperature ecosystems, Hedlund and his team employ an integrated approach, including thermodynamic modeling, ecosystem activity measurements, microbial cultivation and systematics, and genomics. The newest and most exciting work uses cutting-edge technology to study “microbial dark matter” organisms by using single-cell genomics and stable isotope probing. This research will allow us to better understand the foundations of life in geothermal systems, uncover the functions of enigmatic major lineages of microorganisms, and expand our knowledge of the diversity of life on Earth.

Hedlund also collaborates with industrial and academic partners on a wide variety of projects, including those focused on the development of disease diagnostics and prophylactic drugs, understanding the human microbiome, and developing biofuels technologies. 

Hedlund's research is well funded, with major funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Hedlund is principal investigator on the Tengchong PIRE project, which is the largest international effort centering on life in terrestrial geothermal fields. He is an editor for Bergey's Manual of Systematics of Archaea and Bacteria, the definitive source on microbial taxonomy, and regularly serves on grant review panels for national and international funding agencies.


  • Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Washington
  • B.S., Biology, University of Illinois

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Brian Hedlund In The News

NBC News
November 14, 2018
Brian Hedlund and Ariel Friel collect microbes living for tens of thousands of years in the subsurface of the earth. By studying these microorganisms, they hope to gain clues about potential life on Mars and other planets.
Reno Gazette-Journal
November 27, 2017
For eons humans have gazed into the heavens and pondered the mysteries of the universe.
Las Vegas Review Journal
November 20, 2017
In Northern Nevada’s Great Boiling Spring, strange microscopic creatures thrive in water hot enough to kill you.
New Scientist
June 23, 2016
Parasitic bacteria that are entirely dependent on the other bacteria they infect have been discovered for the first time, in human spit. The tiny cells have gone undetected for decades, but appear to be linked to gum disease, cystic fibrosis and antimicrobial resistance.

Articles Featuring Brian Hedlund

UNLV graduate in cap and gown in crowd
Campus NewsDecember 31, 2018
A collection of stories highlighting UNLV students and faculty who made the news in 2018.
Brian Hedlund sampling water in a spring.
Campus NewsNovember 1, 2017
UNLV Prof. Brian Hedlund is studying microorganisms in a Nevada hot spring; the results could help evaluate whether extraterrestrial life exists.
Brian Hedlund collects samples in grass at Lake Mead
Business and CommunitySeptember 28, 2016
DuPont Industrial Biosciences will sponsor research conducted by UNLV microbiologist Brian Hedlund.
Campus NewsAugust 20, 2014
UNLV offers a world of new choices to incoming freshman. Here's some advice from life sciences professor Brian Hedlund on how to sort through them.