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Thermophiles Lurking in your Basement
Color image of woman standing next to hot spring.
In the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, a team of researchers has discovered a novel bacterium that transforms light into chemical energy. Image Credit: David Strong, Penn State

Ever wondered what exotic life forms may be lurking in the dark, hidden corners of your home? Scientists wonder too. Studies have shown that our modern plumbing systems provide sanctuary to a menagerie of microbes. A new pilot project plans to elicit the help of homeowners to catalogue the life growing in their water heaters. The research may give clues to how microbes evolve in the wild.

Forty years ago, scientists discovered certain heat-loving microbes, or thermophiles, living in domestic water heaters. These same bugs are found in hot springs, like those in Yellowstone and Iceland.

"We are asking people to sample the hot spring in their own basement," says Christopher House from Penn State University.

House and his colleagues will be doing follow-up testing on these samples to get a sense of the biodiversity in the water heater environment. With financial support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute, they hope to collect a wide geographic sampling from across the country.

"Are the thermophiles in New York the same as in Alaska or Hawaii?" House wonders.

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Last Updated: 22 July 2011

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Last Updated: 22 Jul 2011