iscovering a New Life Form in the Hot Springs of Yellowstone
Exobiology Research Highlights
July 27, 2007 / Written by: Charles Fergus, Penn State Press Release
Geysers, mud pots, steam vents and hot springs in the region now known as Yellowstone National Park awed American Indians and early European explorers. Now, two million tourists visit the park in northwestern Wyoming each year to watch wildlife and view the spectacular scenery. Scientists home in on the hot springs, exploring their ecology and plumbing their scalding waters in search of highly adapted, heretofore-undiscovered microorganisms.
“Octopus Spring and Mushroom Spring in Yellowstone are two of the most thoroughly studied hot springs on the planet,” said Don Bryant, Ernest C. Pollard professor of biotechnology at Penn State. Yet in these two unwelcoming habitats Bryant and David Ward, a microbial ecologist at Montana State University, found a new thermophilic, or heat-loving, bacterium that survives by transforming light into chemical energy. Bryant, who has studied bacterial photosynthesis in an academic career spanning more than three decades, characterizes finding this new chlorophyll-producing microbe as “the discovery of a lifetime.”
Bryant and Ward described the new bacterium, Chloracidobacterium thermophilum (Cab. thermophilum, for short) in a paper published in the July 27, 2007, issue of Science. Not only has the microbe been declared a new genus and species, it is the first phototrophic member of the phylum Acidobacteria. Phyla are major taxonomic groupings of organisms, and there are about 50 phyla of bacteria. Before Bryant and Ward discovered Cab. thermophilum, only five of those phyla included chlorophyll-producing members. Now, Cab. thermophilum has placed the acidobacteria among the ranks of the chlorophyll producers. (In terms of biomass, chlorophyll-producing bacteria are tremendously abundant, and they are crucial to our planet’s ability to sustain life, performing an...