Jellylike halls of slime pack the waters of Storr's Lake on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. The gooey blobs, called "jelly bombs," are made by millions of bacteria living together. The slime helps the single-celled organisms survive in the lake's extreme conditions.
Storr's Lake reaches temperatures above 38[degrees]C (100[degrees]F). It contains few nutrients and is very salty. "The salinity can be 10 times higher than that of seawater," says Hans Paerl, a biologist at the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The extra salt makes it difficult for the bacteria to retain water inside their bodies, which is necessary for their survival.
The microbes are simple organisms and lack the specialized structures needed to cope directly with all of the lake's extremes. So to stay alive, different bacteria bunch up and work together. Each type of microbe provides a specialized function that helps keep the whole community alive. "No single organism could survive there without the other ones involved," says Paeri.
A critical function provided by some of the bacteria is to excrete a gelatinous coating that binds the organisms together and helps form the jelly bombs. "There are a lot of advantages to being a slimy organism in this environment," says Paerl. For instance, the goo acts as a sunscreen, blocking the sun's harmful ultraviolet light and keeping the bacteria cooler. It also helps trap nutrients and water for the bacteria, allowing the microbes to thrive. But it makes for a slimy swim for tourists visiting the tropical island!
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|Title Annotation:||GROSS OUT|
|Article Type:||Brief article|
|Date:||Nov 9, 2009|
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