Betsy Kleba
Betsy Kleba, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Ph.D. Univ of California - Berkeley

Areas of Experience

  • Host-parasite interactions
  • Cellular microbiology
  • Microbial pathogenesis
  • Halophilic microbes
  • Halophilic petrophiles
  • Microbes and health
  • About Betsy Kleba, Ph.D.



    Dr. Betsy Kleba works with microbes that inhabit extreme environments. Her interest in “life at the extreme” began when she entered graduate school to study the molecular characteristics of the tiny fraction of microbes with the unique capacity to cause disease in humans. After earning a PhD in infectious diseases and immunity from U.C. Berkeley, Betsy continued her work at an NIH research facility dedicated to the study of microbial pathogens. Now as an assistant professor at Westminster College she works with her students on projects that examine microbial life inhabiting the extreme environments of Utah’s unique geography: Bonneville Salt Flats (BSF) and Great Salt Lake (GSL). 

     In the courses she teachers, Dr. Kleba and her students explore the roll the tiniest of life forms play in ecology, nutrient cycling, agriculture, biotechnology and bioremediation, human health and disease, as well as the search for life beyond Earth. She also offers students seeking an extended and intensive research experience opportunities to explore the microbial ecology of two of Utah’s unique and iconic landscapes:  Bonneville Salt Flats and Great Salt Lake. As remnants of ancient Lake Bonneville, GSL and BSF are characterized by their high concentrations of salt.  Extreme salinity in conjunction with large seasonal temperature fluctuations and continuous day-time exposure to ultraviolet radiation render these two ecosystems inhospitable to most organisms.  Indeed, any life forms that survive these conditions have special adaptations that allow them to endure what most other forms of life cannot.  Thus, the students in Dr. Kleba’s research group work toward answering two broad questions: 1) what kinds of life can be found thriving in Utah’s extreme environments, 2) how are these life forms (extremophiles) able to survive where most other organisms cannot?  By identifying, categorizing, and characterizing the microbial inhabitants of both aquatic (GSL) and terrestrial (BSF) salty environments her group contributes to the general understanding of the unique metabolic capacities of extremophiles providing opportunities for new technological advancements that have the potential to result in applications that impact bioremediation of oil spills and the search for extraterrestrial life. Thus, Westminster students engage in the discipline of microbiology in a number of ways, both on and off campus.


    2015-present   Associate Professor, Biology, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT

    2010-2015       Assistant Professor, Biology, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT

    2008                Adjunct Instructor, University of Montana, Missoula, MT

    2006-2010       Postdoctoral Research Associate, NIH, Laboratory of Intracellular Parasites

    2000-2006       Research and teaching assistant, University of California, Berkeley


    Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT

    Primary Investigator (2011-Present) Biology Department

    Research summary: Characterization of the halophilic microbial community residing in salt crust of Bonneville Salt Flats. Isolation, identification, and characterization of halophilic petrophiles inhabiting waters and sediments near naturally occurring oil seeps in the north arm of Great Salt Lake.

     National Institutes of Health, NIAID    

    Postdoctoral Fellow (2006-2010) Laboratory of Intracellular Parasites

    Research summary: Utilized mariner-based transposon mutagenesis to identify putative virulence factors in the obligate intracellular bacterial pathogen Rickettsia rickettsii.

     University of California, Berkeley       

    Doctoral research student (2000-2006) Program in Infectious Diseases & Immunity

    Research summary: Utilized scFv libraries to identify antigens exposed on the surface of Chlamydia for vaccine candidate identification. Developed selective permeabilization and metabolic labeling protocol to detect chlamydial virulence proteins that localize within the host cell cytosol.


    Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT - Biology Department Courses taught:

    ·   Bio111 - Clinical Microbiology

    ·   Bio131 - Human Genetics (LE)

    ·   Bio202 – Organisms & Evolution (guest lecturer on Prokaryotes)

    ·   Bio205 - Introduction to Cell Biology

    ·   Bio303 - Microbiology

    ·   Bio402 - Immunology

    ·   Bio420 - Biology Senior Seminar

    ·   Bio430 - Undergraduate Research

    Adjunct Instructor

    University of Montana, Missoula, MT - Division of Biological Sciences Courses taught:

    ·   Cell & Molecular Biology

    Teaching Assistant

    University of California, Berkeley, CA - Program in Infectious Diseases & Immunity Courses taught:

    ·   Integrity & Conduct in Research

    ·   Microbial Pathogenesis Graduate Seminar


    2015-2016 American Society for Microbiology-Leaders Inspiring Networks and Knowledge-Undergraduate Research Faculty Initiative Fellow.

    2015 Edward L. Burton Foundation research instrumentation grant to enhance undergraduate education and research in microbiology at Westminster College - $3,000

    2014-2015 Utah NASA EPSCoR (PI, Kleba & Bowen)

    Geomicrobiology of the Bonneville Salt Flats:  Interdeisciplinary astrobiological characterization of microbial and geologic relationships in an extreme earth environment - $25,000

     2014-2015 National Science Foundation (PI, Black)   

    Major Research Instrumentation Grant for acquisition of an ICP-MS for novel undergraduate research and training - $245,300

     2013-2014 Myriad Genetics Excellence in Learning Leadership Award (PI, Kleba)

    Primary survey of microbial life inhabiting Bonneville Salt Flats - $20,000

      2006 Brian Ridpath Award

    For excellence in the seminar presentation of doctoral dissertation research. U.C. Berkeley

     2006 Margaret Beattie Award

    For excellence in research within the laboratory sciences. U.C. Berkeley

     2005 Albert & Mildred Krueger Memorial Scholarship

    U.C. Berkeley

     2004 Infectious Diseases & Immunity Leadership Award

    For outstanding contribution to the Graduate Group in Infectious Diseases & Immunity. U.C. Berkeley

     2000 U.C. Berkeley Graduate Division Fellowship

    U.C. Berkeley


    International Society for Extremophiles (2012-present)

    National Association of Advisors for Health Professions (2011-Present)

    American Society for Cell Biology (2000-Present)

    American Society for Microbiology (1999-Present)

             ASM-Intermountain Branch member (2010-present)


    Bonneville Salt Flats - Life in the Fast Lane.  American Society for Microbiology 115th general meeting.  Special session on contributions to extreme microbiology by female scientists.  New Orleans, LA. 31May2015.

    Small College Professor = Big Professional Opportunities. University of South Dakota – Sanford School of Medicine, Vermillion, S.D. Invited by graduate and professional student association 11July2014.

     Extremophiles – The Microbial Life of Utah’s Unique Geology. Intermountain Branch of the American Society of Microbiology annual meeting. Provo, UT. 8March2014.

     Microbial life inhabits Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, U.S.A. Halophiles International Conference. Storrs, CT. 23- 27June2013.

     Pushing the limits: Looking for Life in Extreme Environments. Forum for Questioning Minds. Salt Lake City, UT. 10March2013.

     From RML to a PUI: life as a college professor. Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, National Institutes of Health. Hamilton, MT. Invited by RML Post-doctoral fellows association, May2012.

     Going to Extremes: The Search for Life in Salt. Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, National Institutes of Health. Hamilton, MT. May2012.

     Academia: Negotiation and Transitioning. Panelist for 5th Annual NIH Career Symposium. Office of Intramural Training & Education, NIH, Bethesda, MD. May 2012.


    B. B. Bowen, B. Kleba, J. Turner*, W. Ramming*. Sedimentology, mineralogy, geochemistry, and geomicrobiology of the Bonneville Salt Flats. Annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (submitted summer 2014) Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

     G. Boogaerts, A. Moran-Reyna, J. R. Black, A. Shows, H. Minton, Z. Grace, C. Johnson*, N. Batty*, B. Kleba, J. A. Coker. Preliminary Characterization of the Microbial Community in the Bonneville Salt Flats. 10th International Congress on Extremophiles. (2014) Saint Petersburg, Russia.

     C. Rivera* and B. Kleba. Biodegradation of hydrocarbons by Great Salt Lake microorganisms. Intermountain Branch of American Society of Microbiology Annual Meeting. (2014) Provo, UT.

     A. Fratto* and B. Kleba. Life at the Extremes: Finding earthly analogs for potential life on Mars. Intermountain Branch of American Society of Microbiology Annual Meeting. (2014) Provo, UT.

     N. S. Batty*2, A. M. Roach*, C. E. Mulkey*, B. Kleba. Isolation & Identification of Hydrocarbon Metabolizing Microbes from Great Salt Lake. Intermountain Branch of American Society of Microbiology Annual Meeting. (2013) Pocatello, ID.

     L. Wolf*3, N. Batty*, C. Johnston*, A. Moran-Reyna, Z. Grace, A. Shows, H. Minton, L. Landen, J. A. Coker, B. Kleba. Identification of the Microbial Life on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Intermountain Branch of American Society of Microbiology Annual Meeting. (2013) Pocatello, ID.

     A. M. Roach*, N. S. Batty*, C. E. Mulkey*, B. Kleba. Isolation of Hydrocarbon-Degrading Extremely Halophilic Archaea from a Contaminated Hypersaline Environment. Friends of Great Salt Lake Issues Forum. (2012) Salt Lake City, UT.

     N. S. Batty*1, A. Roach*, C. Mulkey*, B. Kleba. Isolation of Hydrocarbon Metabolizing Microorganisms from the Great Salt Lake. Friends of Great Salt Lake Issues Forum. (2012) Salt Lake City, UT.

     B. Kleba and Ted Hackstadt. Toward Identification of Rickettsia rickettsii Type IV Secretion Effector Proteins. Banff International Meeting on Infectious Diseases. (2008) Banff, Alberta, Canada.

     B. Kleba and Ted Hackstadt. Characterization of Rickettsia rickettsii Type IV Secretion ATPase, VirB11. American Society for Rickettsiology. 21st General Meeting. (2007) Colorado Springs, Colorado.

     B. Kleba and R.S. Stephens. Chlamydia Circumvent Vacuolar Isolation by Acquiring Compounds Directly from Cell Cytosol. Cold Spring Harbor Meeting. Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response. (2005) Cold Spring Harbor, NY.

     B. Kleba and R.S. Stephens. Chlamydia-Associated Fibronectin Does Not Enhance Infectivity, In Vitro. American Society for Microbiology. 104th General Meeting. (2004) New Orleans, Louisiana.

     B. Kleba, E.A. Lindquist, R.S. Stephens. Chlamydia-Specific scFv Antibody Binds Host Cell Fibronectin; B–260. American Society for Microbiology. 101st General Meeting. (2001) Orlando, Florida.

     * denotes undergraduate student researcher

    1 1st place award recognition for outstanding poster presentation by student at conference

    2 2nd place award recognition for outstanding poster presentation by student at conference

    3 3rd place award recognition for outstanding poster presentation by student at conference


    Bonnie K. Baxter, Jaimi K. Butler, Betsy KlebaWorth Your Salt: Halophiles in Education. In Advances in Understanding the Biology of Halophilic Bacteria and Archaea (ed. R.H. Vreeland), pp217-226. (2012) Springer.

     Tina R. Clark, Amanda M. Lackey, Betsy Kleba , Lonnie O. Driskell, Ericka I. Lutter, Craig Martens, David O. Wood, Ted Hackstadt. Transformation frequency of a mariner-based transposon in Rickettsia rickettsii. Journal of Bacteriology. (2011) 193: 4993-4995.

     Tina R. Clark, Damon W. Ellison, Betsy Kleba , Ted Hackstadt. Complementation ofRickettsia rickettsii RelA/SpoT restores a nonlytic plaque phenotype. Infection and Immunity. (2011) 79:1631-1637.

     Betsy Kleba , Tina R. Clark, Ericka I. Lutter, Damon W. Ellison, Ted Hackstadt. Disruption of the Rickettsia rickettsii Sca2 autotransporter inhibits actin-based motility. Infection and Immunity. (2010) 78:2240-2247.

     Betsy Kleba and Richard S. Stephens. Chlamydial Effector Proteins Localized to the Host Cell Cytoplasmic Compartment. Infection and Immunity (2008) 76: 4842-4850.

     Betsy Kleba and Richard S. Stephens. Bacteria-associated fibronectin does not enhance Chlamydia trachomatis infectivity in vitro. Microbial Pathogenesis (2005) 39: 53-55.

     Betsy Kleba, Erin Banta, Erika A. Lindquist, Richard S. Stephens. Recruitment of Mammalian Cell Fibronectin to the Surface of Chlamydia trachomatis. Infection and Immunity (2002) 70: 3935-3938.

     Erika Lindquist, James D. Marks, Betsy Kleba, Richard S. Stephens. Phage-display antibody detection of Chlamydia trachomatis-associated antigens. Microbiology (2002) 148: 443-351.