Student: Abigail Bangs, Undergraduate Student in Biology and Biochemistry, University of Northern Iowa
Research Mentor: Dr. Justin Peters and Dr. Joshua Sebree
Identification of Microorganisms from the Depths of Wind Cave
Microbial communities are found almost everywhere on Earth including atmospheric samples, soils, freshwater systems, oceans, inside the human body, and other extreme environments, e.g. subglacial lakes. Characterizing the microbiomes found in Earth’s most extreme environments will hopefully aid in understanding what makes Earth habitable, the conditions necessary to support life, and what types of biosignatures to look for in other nutrient-limited environments when looking past Earth and into the solar system.
During 2022, the team and I collected samples at Wind Cave National Park on three different trips. As we go deeper and deeper into the cave, the goal is to actively trace the types of microorganisms (fungi, bacteria, and archaea) throughout the cave. The process to obtain genus- and species-level identification of these samples utilizes PCR amplification of different sections of their genomic DNA followed by sequencing analysis.
The objective of this project is to make a genetic map of the Wind Cave microbial system that includes public tour routes as well as deep wild cave regions, including previously reported lake extremophiles. This effort will determine how genetically unique/isolated the lake system is and what influence surface microbes and anthropogenic contamination from cave explorers may have had on the subterranean microbiome.