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Research on life at high temperatures in Yellowstone (Image 5)

Fortress Geyser at Yellowstone National Park

Fortress Geyser at Yellowstone National Park. Despite an inhospitable appearance, the outflow channel of this small geyser in the Lower Geyser Basin teems with life.

This thermal feature is actually a series of microenvironments with different populations. The small geyser at the top of the picture indicates that water is emerging at superheated temperatures (at temperatures above the boiling point). Temperatures well above boiling exist at elevated pressures within a few meters of the surface and probably characterize the conditions in which the cells and viruses in the outflow water originated. Thus life in the outflow of a geyser like this one probably originates at significantly higher temperatures than the filaments or mats on the surface. Unlike most life at lower temperatures, this life does not rely on energy that originates with the sun; the food source is actually the chemistry of water flowing out of the spring.

A visible change in the color of this outflow channel from light gray and white to black indicates changes in the chemistry of the water as it flows out of the spring. These chemical changes in the channel determine which bacteria cells can live within its different regions. Temperature also affects the biodiversity of hot springs. The orange colors on the left of the main channel are due to pigmented microbes living at the lower temperature of this secondary channel. Further downstream (not visible in this picture), as the temperatures decrease, photosynthetic bacteria cause the outflow channels to appear green.

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 5 of 6 related images. See Image 6.]

Credit: David Mead, Lucigen Corporation

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