Stephen Brian Pointing

Science (Environmental Studies)

Director, Division of Science


View Curriculum Vitae

Professor Stephen (Steve) Pointing is Professor and Director of Science at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. Steve earned his BSc and MSc degrees in microbiology from the UK. He won the prestigious Sainsbury Scholarship for postgraduate environmental research at the Bermuda Ocean Institute, and was awarded a PhD in marine microbiology in 1995. Steve gained his MBA in Education Management from Leicester University in 2010. Prior to joining Yale-NUS he held academic positions in the UK, 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.

Professor Pointing’s research addresses fundamental questions in biogeography: the science of understanding spatial and temporal distributions for life. Current research is focused on resolving drivers of microbial diversity in desert environments, estimating intercontinental dispersal of microbes, and applied research to evaluate technology designed to search for traces of life on Mars.


View a short video about Prof Pointing’s research

Some Recent Publications: 

1. Archer SDJ, Lee KC, Maki T, Lee CK, Cary SC, Cowan DA, Maestre FT, Pointing SB (2019) Airborne microbial transport limitation to isolated Antarctic soil habitats. Nature Microbiology 4, 925-932.
2. Pointing SB, Fierer N, Smith GJD, Steinberg PD, Wiedmann M (2016) Quantifying human impact on Earth’s microbiome. Nature Microbiology 1, 16145.
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