Established in 1999, the Thermal Biology Institute is a multidisciplinary team of scientists forging a new path in scientific discovery focused on the unique thermal environments within Yellowstone National Park. TBI is currently composed of fifteen faculty representing expertise in biochemistry, geochemistry, microbiology, virology, mycology, ecology, plant physiology, and environmental physics. In addition to an emphasis on multidisciplinary research, TBI promotes interdisciplinary learning through a strong educational component that incorporates undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral training.

TBI faculty comprise an impressive list of renowned researchers who have collectively garnered over $20 million in competitive research funding for MSU in the past 8 years, including the recent NSF-funded $1.8 million remodel of TBI headquarters on the sixth floor of Leon Johnson Hall. A brief list of influential and relevant research currently conducted by TBI investigators and their students include the archaeal viral ecology work of Mark Young, microbial mat community work of David Ward, the novel biofuels and alternative energy work of Brent Peyton and Robin Gerlach, YNP geomicrobiology work of Matthew Fields, unique work on mercury transformation in hot springs by Gill Geesey, multi-site genome sequencing lead by William Inskeep and Tim McDermott, and the computer simulation of hot springs microbial metabolisms by Ross Carlson.

TBI faculty represent some of the best researchers in biochemistry, geochemistry, microbiology, virology, ecology, chemistry, biochemistry, earth science, engineering, environmental science, and plant sciences. Our faculty members are extremely productive and have utilized TBI research funds to leverage additional support from a variety of competitive grant programs including NASA, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and the Department of Defense.


TBI faculty have numerous publications in top journals, including several influential papers in Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The work of TBI investigators has been featured on the cover of the journals Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Journal of Virology. TBI faculty have been recipients of national awards and invited speakers at numerous local, national and international meetings, and have been featured in local and national newspaper articles, television documentaries, and national magazines.

The long-term goal of TBI is to understand how organisms respond and adapt to the unique physical and chemical features of geothermal environments. We are committed to furthering scientific understandings of the extreme limits of life on our planet, and working to ensure a sustainable future for research and outreach focused on the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park.

Featured Researchers

Brent Peyton

Peyton Director, Thermal Biology Institute and a member of the Executive Committee of the NSF Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University. His areas of expertise are applied research in extremophile bioprocesses, renewable biofuel production, and heavy metal bio-transformations. Peyton’s industrial research contributions have been funded by a variety of companies from local small businesses to Fortune 500 home and health care companies in areas ranging from renewable biofuels and extremophile biofilm contamination to microbial heavy metal removal. Peyton is a member of an interdisciplinary team that recently developed a chemical trigger to significantly increase the production rate and yield of algal lipids – a key feedstock for renewable algal biodiesel. A patent has been submitted and the technology is being licensed by a well-known chemical manufacturer.

Valérie Copié

CopieValérie Copié is director of the high field NMR Metabolomics Research Facility which is located in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Montana State University. The research program of the Copié lab focuses on the investigations of protein structure and function (structural biology) and is expanding into metabolomics research, which involves the identification and quantification of small molecules metabolites as diagnostic markers of cellular phenotypes. Copié’s collaborative approach with the Bothner laboratory combines NMR, mass spectrometry (MS), and a variety of other biophysical techniques including small molecules metabolites extractions, protein biochemistry, circular dichroism, molecular biology, site-directed mutagenesis, and in vitro structure-function protein assays.

Ross Carlson


Ross Carlson is a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering as well as a member of the Center for Biofilm Engineering .His areas of research expertise include in silico metabolic systems analysis, synthetic biology/ metabolic engineering and the production of biofuels from renewable resources .The Carlson laboratory is utilizing a systems biology approach known as elementary flux mode analysis to study the properties of microbial reaction networks. The network analysis research is integrated into practical microbial engineering and microbial physiology studies to engineer useful bioprocesses. Applications of this work include environmentally critical processes like efficient nutrient recycling and bioremediation of contaminated sites. The research can also be used to optimize biotechnological processes like the production of biofuels and biomaterials from renewable resources. In addition by advancing our metabolic understanding of microbial pathogens, it should be possible to improve prevention and treatment strategies for medical infections.