Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

World's Most Alkaline Life Forms Found Near Chicago

Date:
November 5, 2003
Source:
Geological Society Of America
Summary:
Illinois groundwater scientists have found microbial communities thriving in the slag dumps of the Lake Calumet region of southeast Chicago where the water can reach extraordinary alkalinity of pH 12.8. That's comparable to caustic soda and floor strippers -- far beyond known naturally occurring alkaline environments.

Sometimes the most extreme environment for life isn't at the bottom of the ocean or inside a volcano. It's just south of Chicago.

Illinois groundwater scientists have found microbial communities thriving in the slag dumps of the Lake Calumet region of southeast Chicago where the water can reach extraordinary alkalinity of pH 12.8. That's comparable to caustic soda and floor strippers -- far beyond known naturally occurring alkaline environments.

The closest known relatives of some of the microbes are in South Africa, Greenland and the alkaline waters of Mono Lake, California.

"Other alkaline communities have been found at pHs up to 11," says Illinois State Water Survey hydrogeologist George Roadcap. "That's sort of the high end of known natural communities."

Roadcap and his colleagues at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana came upon the microbes while studying contaminated groundwater created by more than a century of industrial iron slag dumping in southern Illinois and northern Indiana. Roadcap will present details of what appear to be the most alkaline-tolerant life known to date on Tuesday, Nov. 4 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle, WA.

Genetic analyses at one site revealed bacteria related to Clostridium and Bacillus species. These are found in highly alkaline waters of Mono Lake, tufa columns in Greenland, and cement-contaminated groundwater in a deep gold mine in Africa. Some RNA sequences appeared most closely related to thermophilic, or "heat loving," bacteria found in other parts of the world. The temperatures of the slag dumps are not extraordinary at all, of course. In fact they get pretty cold in the winter, driving the pH even higher, says Roadcap.

At five other sites the dominant microbes belonged to the Proteobacteria class including a large number from the Comamonadacea family of the beta subclass. "In high-pH microcosms experiments, one of these microbes is closely related to a hydrogen oxidizer," said Roadcap. That means the bacteria exploits the hydrogen given off from the corrosion of metallic iron slag in water.

Just how the unusual bacteria got to the slag dumps is currently a mystery, says Roadcap. "I'd hate to hazard a guess," he said, regarding their origins. One possibility is that local bacteria adapted to the extreme environment over the last century. Another possibility is that they somehow got imported.

As for whether the unexpected microbial community has any effect on the extensive groundwater contamination problem in the slag dumps, "We have not come to any conclusion about that," says Roadcap. Among the possible harmful things microbes could do is collect and distribute hazardous materials to nearby lakes and wetlands. But so far that has not been documented.

Alkaline groundwater in the Lake Calumet region was created when steel slag was dumped and used to fill in wetlands and lakes. Water and air reacts with the slag to create lime (calcium hydroxide), driving up the pH. There is an estimated 21 trillion cubic feet of contaminated industrial fill dumped in southeast Illinois and northeast Indiana, about half of which is thought to be slag, Roadcap noted. The slag dumps where the microbial communities were found resembled filled wetlands and are often devoid of surface vegetation, he explained.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Geological Society Of America. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Geological Society Of America. "World's Most Alkaline Life Forms Found Near Chicago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/11/031105064545.htm>.
Geological Society Of America. (2003, November 5). World's Most Alkaline Life Forms Found Near Chicago. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/11/031105064545.htm
Geological Society Of America. "World's Most Alkaline Life Forms Found Near Chicago." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/11/031105064545.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

Killer Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water System

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — State health officials say testing has confirmed the presence of a killer amoeba in a water system serving three St. John the Baptist Parish towns. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

Raw: Australian Sheep Gets Long Overdue Haircut

AP (Aug. 28, 2014) — Hoping to break the record for world's wooliest, Shaun the sheep came up 10 pounds shy with his fleece weighing over 50 pounds after being shorn for the first time in years. (Aug. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Minds Blown: Scientists Develop Fish That Walk On Land

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — Canadian scientists looking into the very first land animals took a fish out of water and forced it to walk. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Huge Ancient Wine Cellar Found In Israel

Newsy (Aug. 28, 2014) — An international team uncovered a large ancient wine celler that likely belonged to a Cannonite ruler. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins