Stephen Brian Pointing

Science (Environmental Studies)

Director, Division of Science


View Curriculum Vitae

Professor Stephen (Steve) Pointing is Director of the Science Division and Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. Prof Pointing earned a BSc Biochemistry and MSc Microbiology in the UK. He won the prestigious Sainsbury Scholarship for postgraduate environmental research at the Bermuda Ocean Institute, and was awarded a PhD Marine Microbiology in 1995.  Prof Pointing gained his MBA Education Management from Leicester University in 2010. Prior to joining Yale-NUS, he held academic positions in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Japan and New Zealand.

Prof Pointing has spent over 20 years researching extreme environments finding microbial life where it should not exist, and this work has taken him all over the world from tropical hot springs to Himalayan lakes and Antarctic deserts. He has published some of the pivotal findings in his field and led several large international research projects. Prof Pointing is an award-winning teacher with a passion for making environmental issues exciting and societally relevant in the classroom. He is also very active in science communication and outreach, having made over 200 television and radio appearances commenting on environmental issues.

Prof Pointing’s research addresses fundamental questions in microbial biogeography: the science of understanding spatial and temporal distributions for microbial life. Research projects have addressed patterns of microbial diversity in response to extreme environmental stress and airborne dispersal of microorganisms over intercontinental distances. Other unusual interests include mapping microorganisms in the built environment and evaluating autonomous rovers in the search for microbial life on the surface of Mars.

View a short video about Prof Pointing’s research


Prof Pointing has published over 100 journal and book publications, for a full list of publications and citation metrics please refer to his Google Scholar Citations.

Some recent publications:

1. Pointing SB, Fierer N, Smith GJD, Steinberg PD, Wiedmann M (2016) Quantifying human impact on Earth’s microbiome. Nature Microbiology 1, 16145.
2. Pointing SB, Budel B, Convey P, Gillman LN, Korner C, Leuzinger SL, Vincent WF (2015). Biogeography of photoautotrophs in the high polar biome. Frontiers in Plant Science 6, 692.
3. Chan Y, van Nostrand J, Zhou J, Pointing SB and Farrell RL (2013) Functional ecology of an Antarctic dry valley. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110, 8990-8995.
4. Pointing SB and Belnap J (2012) Microbial colonization and controls in dryland systems. Nature Reviews Microbiology 10, 551-562.
5. Bahl J, Lau MCY, Smith GJD, Dhanasekeran V, Cary SC, Lacap DC, Lee CK, Papke RT, Warren-Rhodes KA, Wong FKY, McKay CP and Pointing SB (2011) Ancient origins determine global biogeography of hot and cold desert cyanobacteria. Nature Communications 2, 163.

Urban Ecological Systems