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A living desert underground
Date:12/2/2013

e we inferred based on the DNA sequences were not similar enough to anything in the database for us to be able to identify them," Neilson said. "On one stalactite, we found a rare organism in a microbial group called SBR1093 that comprised about 10 percent of the population on that stalactite, but it represented less than 0.5 percent of the microbes on any of the others."

According to Neilson, nobody has been able to culture that organism in the lab, and its DNA sequence has only ever been found three times in history: in a stromatolite - a special type of sedimentary rock involving microbial communities - in the hypersaline waters of Shark Bay in Australia; in a site contaminated with hydrocarbons in France; and in a sewage treatment plant in Brisbane, Australia.

"This suggests there are many microbes out there in the world that we know almost nothing about," she said. "The fact that these organisms showed up in contaminated soil could mean they might have potential for applications such as environmental remediation. The most abundant microbe that we found in our taxonomic survey was closely related to a microbe that produces erythromycin, an antibiotic. That is not what it is doing in the cave, but it shows you that not only is there a potential to find microbes that are new to science, but studying them in those extreme and poorly studied environments could lead to new applications."

The implications of the research reach far beyond Kartchner Caverns, as far as other planets, as the researchers point out.

"There is a lot we have to learn about microbes and how they control processes of global importance, and by studying microbes in extreme ecosystems such as Kartchner Caverns or in the Atacama Desert in Chile, it helps us study some of the capabilities we don't yet understand in rich ecosystems here on the surface," Neilson said.

"It shows the flexibility of microbes," Neilson said. "They have conquered every niche
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Contact: Daniel Stolte
stolte@email.arizona.edu
520-626-4402
University of Arizona
Source:Eurekalert  

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