Microbial ropes populate cave lake

December 24th, 2008 - 4:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 24 (IANS) Deep inside a cave system in Italy and more than 1,600 feet below the earth’s surface, divers found filamentous ropes of microbes growing in the cold water.”Sulphur caves are a microbiology paradise. Many different types of organisms live in the caves and use the sulphur,” said Jennifer L. Macalady, assistant professor of geosciences at the Penn State University.

“We are trying to map which organisms live where in the caves and how they correspond to the geochemical environment.”

In this process, Macalady and her team discovered a previously unknown form of biofilm growing in the oxygen-deficient portion of the lake.

“The cave explorers had seen these strange biofilms,” said Macalady. “So we asked them if they could get us a sample.”

The Frasassi cave system is located north of Rome and south of Venice in the Marche region. These limestone caves are like New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns and Lechuguilla Cave, but in those caves, sulphur entered from oil and gas reserves, while in Italy, the sulphur source is a thick gypsum layer below. Having sulphur in the environment allows sulphur-using organisms to grow.

The researchers received about the weight of two paper clips of the strange rope to analyse, said a Penn State release.

The study was presented at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco.

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