Life in Boiling Waters: A Global Microbial Connection

Yellowstone National Park Hot Spring

Scientists conducted microbial DNA sampling at a Yellowstone National Park hot spring for a study sponsored by DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research program, the National Science Foundation and NASA. Credit: Mircea Podar/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Scientists find evolutionary clues while examining microbes in far-flung hot springs.

Scientists found similar microbial adaptations in hot springs across the US, Iceland, and Japan, offering insights into life’s evolution and potential biotechnological applications.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) scientists studied hot springs on different continents and found similarities in how some microbes adapted despite their geographic diversity. The findings yield clues to the evolution of life and whether some of the hardiest microbes may be harnessed for biotechnology.

The study, which was recently published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, was the first of its kind to sample hot springs on three continents with water temperatures above 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit) in the United States, Iceland, and Japan. The environments have unique geology and chemistry, almost like a fingerprint, so it was surprising to find highly related microbes separated by thousands of miles, said ORNL’s Mircea Podar, co-lead of the study with researchers at Montana State University.

“We found common microbes, but also diversity as the microorganisms adapted to local conditions,” Podar said. The scientists theorize that tectonic conditions and geology of the hot springs are at play, providing new insights into how life and the Earth have co-evolved.

Reference: “Tectonic and geological setting influence hot spring microbiology” by Daniel R. Colman, Allison Veach, Andri Stefánsson, Louie Wurch, B. Shafer Belisle, Peter T. Podar, Zamin Yang, Dawn Klingeman, Kazuyo Senba, Katsuhiko S. Murakami, Jakob K. Kristjánsson, Snædís H. Björnsdóttir, Eric S. Boyd, Mircea Podar, 8 August 2023, Environmental Microbiology.
DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.16472

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