Jennifer Macalady, a geomicrobiology research professor from Pennsylvania State University, is studying microbial life in Abaco’s blue holes and is getting a look back in time.
Ms. Macalady said she is in The Bahamas because “there is nowhere like it; there’s no place that we can study what we are studying here.”
“And what is special about blue holes in particular is that they are free of oxygen near the bottom which usually leads to a bloom of microbes that are unusual because they are living in conditions that are unusual,” she said.
She said that what has their interest is that it is “like the global ocean was billions of years ago, so when we are looking at microbes in blue holes we are really looking back in time. That’s what’s so compelling about coming to The Bahamas.”
There are three or four blue holes that they are interested in. She expects that she should have plenty to research here for the next decade at least.
She said they are at the beginning of their work here and that she, along with a large group of scientists, are working in many places all over the world on microbes that live in the environment.
“The project we are working on now involves a blue hole with no oxygen at the bottom and it has a microbial community that is really thick – it’s a biofilm – and it’s growing on the walls of the blue hole down deep where there’s hardly any light except this thing is actually living on light. So what it’s doing is living on a few photons per chlorophyll per day,” she said.
She said that this is one of the sites NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is really interested in because it represents one of the ultimate limits to life which is an energy limitation.
“So here is an example of a microbial community which is like how we think microbial communities were billions of years ago,” she said. “And it’s living on almost nothing. No oxygen and hardly any light and yet it’s conspicuous life.”
She said it is significant to NASA because it means even at the limits of energy that you can still have this conspicuous life going on.