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Research on life at high temperatures in Yellowstone (Image 1)

The Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park

The Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. At 370 feet in diameter, this is the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and the third largest in the world. Its temperature is near boiling, ranging in different spots from 63 to 87 degrees Celsius (145.4 to 188.6 degrees Fahrenheit). The dramatic colors are an interplay of physics, chemistry and biology. While the blue color is an optical effect, the orange and brown colors are bacteria that live at temperatures near boiling. These easily visible bacterial mats have been the subject of National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported research by Tom Schoenfeld and David Mead of Lucigen Corporation. Lucigen is a pioneer in creating tools for cloning and expressing challenging genes from trace amounts of material.

The Lucigen researchers examined the microbes and viruses that are suspended in the crystal-clear water and not nearly as obvious to the casual observer. Although invisible to the naked eye and even to the standard light microscope, viruses have been collected from the water columns of nearby hot springs and, using advanced molecular biology techniques, their genetic signatures have been analyzed. This work has shown that every teaspoon of this water contains hundreds of thousands of viruses comprised of thousands of different viral types. Similar numbers of microbial cells are seen, although they are generally less diverse. This genetic diversity encodes an invaluable resource of biological molecules adapted to function at high temperatures and is being "mined" for use in genetic analysis, disease detection and biofuel production.

This research was initiated through NSF Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I and II awards (DMI-0109756, DMI-0215988) to Lucigen (Principle Investigator Thomas Schoenfeld). Ongoing work on the project is currently supported by an additional grant (IIP 08-39404), awarded to Lucigen (Schoenfeld). (Date of Image: 2005-2007) [Image 1 of 6 related images. See Image 2.]

Credit: David Mead, Lucigen Corporation
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