Episode Summary

Lighting in caves open to tourists supports the growth of unwanted photosynthetic bacteria!

Thanks to Zoë Havlena for her contribution!

Microbe of the episode

Microbe of the episode: Dill cryptic virus 2

Jesse's takeaways

Caves can contain amazing beauty, intricate geological formations formed by minerals, water, and time. Some, such as Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, have been fitted with instruments to allow tourists to pass through and see the wonders within; definitely a worthwhile experience.
 
Caves also have their own natural microbiota that can live within them, in the dark, somewhat cold, and nutrient-poor conditions. But with the lighting installed to allow tourism, photosynthetic microbes have been able to take hold in the communities of these show caves. These microbes can outcompete the natural microbes, and can cause discoloration and unwanted growths on cave formations. They are difficult to remove without much effort and the risk of damaging the cave formations themselves. 
 
This study looked at the effects of the color of lighting in the caves, as well as other factors, on the growth of these so-called "lampenflora." It supports new efforts and methods to control the issue.

Journal Paper

Havlena Z, Kieft TL, Veni G, Horrocks RD, Jones DS. 2021. Lighting Effects on the Development and Diversity of Photosynthetic Biofilm Communities in Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico. Appl Environ Microbiol 87.

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