Does your gut hold the key to your cancer?
Octopus Springs, eight miles north of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, is a bubbling pot of 91-degree, alkaline water covered in a floating film of grayish white silicate deposit called sinter. It is not home to birds or squirrels or foxes or any of the other feathered or furred creatures we associate with the park. It is, however, home to Aquifex, a pinkish-purple hydrogen-eating chemotroph that thrives in this toxic hot tub. We know this because in the 1980s, University of Colorado Boulder researcher, Norman Pace, pioneered techniques to determine what sorts of wee beasties are present in soups like Octopus Springs. Basically, he collected water with a homemade screen that looked like a furnace filter, chopped it up and compared the fragments of genetic material he found to a library of usual microbial suspects. Today Pace’s technique forms the basis for analyzing the microbes of another hot pot, namely your gut.