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Ed Yeates ReportingBillions of unknown microorganisms, some we'll like, some we won’t. That's what Dr. Norman Pace and his team are discovering, using a new genetic technique that identifies their DNA out where they move about.
In the boiling waters of Yellowstone Park a microorganism lives and thrives, despite the temperatures. Dr. Norman Pace from the University of Colorado was given the National Science Foundation's highest award for his DNA research in microbiology, research from his team and others that so far reveals not 12 kingdoms of bacteria but 80, and many more to come.
Dr. Norman Pace, University of Colorado: "We have no idea what these organisms are doing out there in the environment. We only know they're abundant and many times, way far outweighing the kinds of organisms that we do know about."
From the furnaces of Yellowstone to the cold of the Arctic -- an organism here lives in minus 25 degrees centigrade. It’s like nothing you've seen before. Instead of stretching and dividing into two cells, the normal way, what does the football shaped microorganism do?
Dr. Norman Pace: "Inside the cell, developing multiple daughter cells. Then at the end of the replication cycle, a slit forms in the cortex of the mother cell and the daughter cells come swimming out."
Dr. Pace is about to release a study on a bacterial microbe with a very waxy coat that likes to be aerosolized in the mist above swimming pools and spas.
Dr. Norman Pace: "That means they're hydrophobic. They don't like to be in water, and so the waxy coats tend to stick together and the microbe therefore forms a microscopic microfilm that gets caught and carried up into the aerosol."
No risk for healthy people, but if someone has a compromised immune system, Pace believes this aerosolized organisms, when inhaled, may cause a form of pneumonia.
But with the bad, comes billions of good things as well. Perhaps even more organisms that along with trees and plants, actually replenish oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere.
Pace says what he and his team are finding is nothing sort of remarkable. This is a world hidden in almost everything that was here long before we were - and will survive long after we're gone.
Pace will reveal more of his findings in a special Frontiers of Science presentation tonight at 7:30. It's free and open to the public at the University of Utah's Skaggs Biology Auditorium.