Environmental Microbiology Students Head to Yellowstone

JHCS Environmental Microbiology students spent a day in Yellowstone last week to observe microbial "extremophiles" that thrive in hot and acidic hydrothermal environments.  Students took pH and temperature measurements, examined biological and mineral textures and analyzed color gradients in a variety of hot springs in Norris Geyser Basin, Fountain Paint Pots and Grand Prismatic Hot Springs, each of which has different geochemistry and different microbial populations.  Students learned why organisms that thrive in these environments are used as models to understand the origin of life on earth and the search for life in space. Dana Skorupa, a professor at Montana State who specializes in extremophiles in Yellowstone, met the class and described her field research looking for organisms that are important in solving some of our pressing environmental challenges.  Dana's lab group collects plastic trash that tourists have thrown into the springs and tries to isolate organisms that can degrade plastics on an industrial scale. Her group is also looking for fast growing algae in the hot springs that can be grown in hot dry deserts and used as a carbon neutral biofuel.