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Yellowstone Microbes Under Scrutiny

NSF Award:

Microbial Communities: Theory and Practice  (Montana State University)

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Microbial communities play central roles in all geochemical cycles. To learn more about these communities, a team of NSF-funded researchers created models that depict how the microbes respond to changing environmental conditions.

Understanding how these communities function, as well as how they adapt and acclimate to a changing environment, can assist in understanding and predicting past, present and future geophysical conditions.

Microbial communities have thrived on light and chemical-free energy for more than 3 billion years. In that time they have transformed the Earth's chemistry and they continue to have a major impact today. However, the ecological form and function of these communities is still not understood. Even species structure is poorly characterized.

Recent advances in molecular technology--particularly DNA and RNA sequencing methods--have produced a flood of detailed ecological information. Using models to predict how each microbe community structures itself under high-temperature conditions, mathematicians and microbial ecologists are studying large collections of microbes living in Yellowstone National Park. Specifically, they are examining how these oxygen producers respond to seasonal changes in light and temperature.

Images (1 of )

  • cyanobacterial mats in Octopus Spring, Yellowstone National Park
  • graduate student gathers data at Yellowstone National Park
Cyanobacterial mats in Octopus Spring, Yellowstone National Park.
Isaac Klapper, Montana State University
Shane Nowack gathers data at Octopus Spring.
Isaac Klapper, Montana State University

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