23 August 2008

Very Exciting Algae

Okay, so in a slight departure from anthropology, here is something really cool. It started with humans strip-mining and eventually creating one of the most toxic environments on earth. Then, years later, we found something living there.

This, like most extremophile cases, perfectly illustrates that life does in fact, always find a way. Although I'm sure there are some jerks who will argue that a divine superbeing put life in a lifeless place, completely ignoring the adaptive processes undergone by generations of algae, I prefer to revel in the magnificence of adaptation and how we can learn from it.

The part I find especially cool is that "Some can even repair their own damaged DNA, a trait which makes them extremely interesting to cancer researchers" The tenacity of researchers "...led to the discovery of a number of promising chemicals. Three of these, berkeleydione, berkeleytrione, and Berkeley acid, came from species of the fungus Penicillium that had never been seen before, and were therefore named after the Berkeley Pit....Further tests revealed that berkeleydione helped slow the growth of a type of lung cancer cell, and Berkeley acid went after ovarian cancer cells. All five were passed along to the National Cancer Institute for further study."

Unfortunately, while this pit of human-made toxicity has caused certain algae and bacteria to flourish, likely benefiting us as well, we should not forget that human irresponsibility has also taken a high toll and will continue to do so.

"In 1995, a flock of migrating snow geese stopped at the massive pond for a rest, and at least 342 of them died there. Authorities now use firecrackers and loudspeakers to scare away migrating waterfowl, but there have been a few smaller die-offs nonetheless....the water level is rising at a rate of several inches a month, and if unchecked it will spill over into the area’s groundwater in twenty years."


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