Monday, April 5, 2010

Extremo-flamingos

Picture a lagoon nestled in the Cerro Galán volcanic caldera, high in the Andes mountains. The lagoon is located 4,600m above sea level (meaning low oxygen), is hyper alkaline at a pH of 11, has a salt concentration five times higher than sea water, has an arsenic concentration 20,000 times higher than US drinking water, has a ultraviolet (UV) light exposure level 40% higher than that in the lowlands, and is exposed to gaseous sulfur leaking from volcanic vents. That pretty much sums up what an extreme environment includes. What would you expect to find there? Likely only a collection of stromatolites, if anything at all.

Well, an Argentinian research team expecting to find just that in fact found flamingos surviving on a diet of microorganisms (as yet unidentified) living in the lagoon. The scientists are working to identify the bacteria in hopes that these extremophiles may yield medical or commercial properties - such as UV resistance, enzymes that function in extreme conditions, antioxidants, etc. Getting away from the greedy money side of it, the discovery may also yield clues on the development of life on Earth - an environment with low oxygen, high UV, and high pH, all conditions found in the lagoon.

Check it out here: http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100402/full/news.2010.161.html

(image from fineartamerica.com)
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