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Geomicrobiology of Yellowstone Lake

Status Report From: NASA Astrobiology Institute
Posted: Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Astronaut photograph (ISS011-E-10575) of Yellowstone Lake from orbit. Geothermal features such as geysers and hot springs are located in the West Thumb area. This is thought to be due to a relatively shallow, local magma source. IMAGE CREDIT: NASA.

A new interdisciplinary study evaluates microbial populations that inhabit thermal vents in Yellowstone Lake. Yellowstone lake is a fresh-water system straddling a caldera, and experiences significant geothermal activity. Using a metagenome sequencing approach, researchers were able to study how waters from vents affected the distribution of specific microorganisms. Samples from the vents were obtained with a remotely operated vehicle.

Microorganisms with a range of metabolisms were studied in conditions that varied by the composition, temperature, and pH range of thermal waters. Novel groups of methanogens were also identified in the study. The research shows that the thermal vents in Yellowstone Lake support previously unknown thermophilic communities. The communities also contain microbes that perform functions within the community that have not yet been found in other geothermal systems of Yellowstone National Park.

The study, “Geomicrobiology of sublacustrine thermal vents in Yellowstone Lake: geochemical controls on microbial community structure and function,” was published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. The work was supported in part by the NASA Astrobiology Institute element of the NASA Astrobiology Program.

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