Centralia, Pennsylvania, was once a thriving city, largely supported by the coal industry. But in 1962, a garbage fire near an abandoned tape mine ignited what was left of the 25-million-ton coal layer beneath the city. Year after year, the fire spread, releasing noxious gases, opening wells and, ultimately, making the city uninhabitable, at least for humans.
In the absence of humans and in the presence of a rapidly warming soil, some interesting microbes have appeared: thermophiles. These microbes, which live at very high temperatures, have liked some of the ventilation zones in Centralia, some of which have been heated to almost 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) over the course of a few decades.
Ashley Shade, an badistant professor at Michigan State University, has been studying the changes in soil temperature in Centralia and the effects on the communities of microbes that live there. His team has been looking for correlations between things like the temperature change in the soil and the genome size of the microbes he has found. "The idea is that if you can keep your cell small, you'll benefit from not having to spend that much energy just by keeping all the parts of your cell, which become more shaky at higher temperatures," Shade said. The edge last month.
With the help of Shade, Edge The science traveled to Centralia, collected some samples of warm soil and tried to grow thermophiles in our study (with an incubator, not an underground fire). Watch the video for the processes and results.