Monday, November 29, 2010

The New Germ Theory

JILLIAN BANFIELD trades in hell holes. In September, she could be found wading through the dark, hot, sulphurous innards of Richmond Mine at Iron Mountain, California, where blue stalactites ooze the most acidic water ever discovered, with a pH of −3.6. A year before that, she was pumping up a toxic soup of uranium, arsenic, molybdenum and other metals from underneath a decommissioned nuclear-processing site in Rifle, Colorado. From both sites she took samples back to her lab at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where she sequenced and analysed the DNA they contain in an attempt to work out which bacteria, archaea, viruses and fungi have decided to make that particular hell their home — and what it takes to survive there. More>