Thermophiles in the Grand Prismatic Spring

Contributed by Ning Chin

I recently went to the National Yellowstone Park for my brother’s graduation trip with family. Taking a walk in nature is always a humbling experience. We can stay in the lab and carefully control conditions to mimic nature, but the product is always less cool than what nature created.

Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yellowstone Park consists of lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain rangers that have unique geothermal features. Out of all the breath-taking (the smell of rotten egg) views that the Yellowstone Park offers, my favorite one is the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is the largest hot spring in the United States, with colors matching the light dispersion by a prism – red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. The blue is due to the light scattered by particles suspended in the water. The red, orange, yellow, and green are all due to microbial growth – the temperature gradient by the edge of the hot spring created a unique niche for different microbes that can survive in that specific environment. Even the steam that’s coming out of the hot spring seemed like they’re colored because of the reflection of the spring’s light. Just think about that for a second – the majority of the colors are from microbes! It’s amazing how life can thrive even in such extreme environment. Instead of using my limited English vocabulary to describe the beauty, here’s a picture.

(link to the picture:

If you’re interested in learning more about the microbes, take a look at this article:

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