A population study of microbes in Yellowstone National Park hot pools suggests viruses might be buoyed by steam to distant pools. The result, to be published online next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help to answer some fundamental questions about how microbes, and the viruses that infect them, impact their environment. Researchers at Montana State University and Idaho National Laboratory embarked on one of the first comprehensive, long-term characterizations of hot pool ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park. The results help shed light on how viruses survive in hostile surroundings, migrate from pool to pool, and may help control hot pool environments.
A big question for biologists is how much microbes and their predators contribute to creating the acidic, mineral-heavy environment in geothermal features. In the laboratory, microbes like sulfur-eating Sulfolobus, which is found in hot pools around the world, will lower the acidity of the surrounding water to their comfort level. Viruses that infect hot pool microbes may have a similar effect on their environment by keeping certain populations in check.
To investigate the impact of viruses on their ecosystems, researchers at the Montana State University Thermal Biology Institute, with the help of Idaho National Laboratory, sampled three distinct Yellowstone hot pools over the course of two years. Initially, the team looked for a relationship between pool conditions and microbe population. But while the populations of different viruses fluctuated wildly, pool conditions stayed the same.
Instead, the researchers found something surprising changes in Sulfolobus virus populations suggested the viruses were migrating from pool to pool. The researchers set out to determine how migration to pools miles away might occur. Since subterranean water temperatures are so high, underground migration seemed unlikely. Following a hunch, the researchers found v
|Contact: Rachel Courtland|
DOE/Idaho National Laboratory