Montana State University

Thermal Biology Institute

605 Leon Johnson Hall
P.O. Box 173142
Bozeman, MT 59717-3142

Phone: 406-994-7039
Fax: 406-994-7470
Email: tbi@montana.edu

 

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Living Colors: Microbes of Yellowstone Park

TBI has created a new Yellowstone microbial identification wheel and an accompanying book called Living Colors: Microbes of Yellowstone National Park, a paperback guide that introduces the public to some of the microbes of Yellowstone.
Famous for its vividly colored rainbow-like pool, Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States and one of the most photographed features in Yellowstone. In the channels around Grand Prismatic there are mats of photosynthetic cyanobacteria that are usually orange and occasionally green.
Thermochromatium is usually deep purple red in color but can be reddish brown as well. Thermochromatium has been found in a few small springs in the Mammoth area of Yellowstone, and is quite abundant in some of the hydrogen sulfide-containing springs at Thermopolis, Wyoming. More »
Oscillatoria is named for its slow back and forth oscillating movement that allows it to move closer to a light source. Oscillatoria is a rod-shaped bacterium that often forms mats. Scientists think it moves by releasing a glue-like substance that propels it in the opposite direction as the secretion it makes. More »
Cyanidioschyzon is a green spherical algae found in acid springs. It uses sunlight for energy, but can also grow in the dark using small carbon molecules that are available in the spring water. Cyanidioschyzon is one of the most heat- and acid-tolerant algae known. More »
Although the larger flora and fauna of Yellowstone may be more obviously charismatic and visible, the microbes of Yellowstone should not be overlooked. The microbes represented in this book do not encompass all of the species that visitors will encounter, but they are some of the more prevalent and well-understood. More »


The Thermal Biology Institute (TBI) is a multidisciplinary team of scientists forging a new path in scientific discovery focused on the unique thermal environments within Yellowstone National Park. The long-term goal of TBI is to understand how organisms respond and adapt to the unique physical and chemical features of geothermal environments. TBI is committed to advancing the understanding of the extreme limits of life on our planet, and working to ensure a sustainable future for research and outreach focused on the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park.


Visit the TBI website at montanaioe.org


The Montana Institute on Ecosystems (IoE) is a first-of-its-kind experiment for Montana to build a state-wide institute on ecosystem sciences. IoE is a Montana community of scholars and partners with a shared vision to advance integrated environmental sciences and related fields. As a flagship program of the National Science Foundation’s EPScor award to Montana, its role is to serve as a research and education portal on ecosystem sciences to the citizens of Montana and the nation in general.


Visit the IoE website at montanaioe.org



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Living Colors: Microbes of Yellowstone National Park is now available to purchase from the Yellowstone Association Park Store.

Microbial Animations


Click on the links below to view animations of the microbes of Yellowstone.
You can also view all of the movies together in one playlist.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth

Chloroflexus

This artist's animation features Chloroflexus, a fimlamentous anoxygenic phototroph, formerly referred to as a green nonsulfur bacterium, that is rod shaped and forms filaments. It uses light for energy but uses organic carbon derived from other organisms to make new cell material and does not produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis.

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Oscillatoria

This artist's animation features Oscillatoria, a rod-shaped bacterium named for its slow back-and-forth oscillating movement that allows it to move closer to a light source. Oscillatoria has been found all over the world on every continent except Antarctica.

View animation

Thermochromatium

This bacterium is usually deep purple red in color but can be reddish brown as well. It has been found in a few small springs in the Mammoth area of Yellowstone, and is quite abundant in some of the hydrogen sulfide-containing springs at Thermopolis, Wyoming.

View animation

 

Living Colors: Microbes of Yellowstone National Park and the accompanying identification wheel were created by the Montana State University Thermal Biology Institute and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems.

Upper, Midway, Lower Geyser Basins

Grand Prismatic

Calothrix

This artist's animation features Calothrix, a brownish rod-shaped cyanobacterium that forms dark brown mats along the moist edges and in the outflow of many Yellowstone thermal features. It contains a pigment that acts as a sunscreen and protects Calothrix from high levels of UV radiation.

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Desulfurococcus

This artist's animation features Desulfurococcus, a spherical shaped organism with a surface protein that forms a lattice of mesh cross-shaped units. It does not need oxygen but obtains energy by ingesting organic carbon compounds like sugars and lipids.

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Synechococcus

This artist's animation features Synechococcus, rod-shaped cyanobacteria that create green mats and can form some of the most prominent green colors in thermal features. They are photosynthetic and intolerant of sulfur.

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Thermocrinis

This artist's animation features Metallosphaera, a spherical-shaped member of the domain Archaea that appears orange when in large groups. This organism is a hyperthermophile, meaning it can grow at very high temperatures--50 to 80 degrees C (122 to 176 degrees F).

Organism
Environment

Thermus

This artist's animation features Thermus, a rod-shaped bacterium that sometimes forms bright red or orange streamers. It contains pigments called cartenoids that act as a sunscreen and protect it from high levels of sunlight.

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Norris Geyser Basin

Norris

Caldisphaera

This artist's animation features Caldisphaera, a micro-organism that grows in high-temperature and acidic environments. It converts yellow precipitated sulfur into hydrogen sulfide -- the gas that smells like rotten eggs and is very poisonous and corrosive..

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Cyanidioschyzon

This artist's animation features Cyanidioschyzon, a spherical green-colored red alga found in acid springs. It uses sunlight for energy, and performs oxygen photosynthesis by processes identical to those in cyanobacteria and plants..

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Hydrogenobaculum

This artist's animation features Hydrogenobaculum, a rod-shaped bacterium that can form yellow or white streamers. It uses hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide for energy.

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Metallosphaera

This artist's animation features Metallosphaera, a spherical-shaped member of the domain Archaea that appears orange when in large groups. This organism is a hyperthermophile, meaning it can grow at very high temperatures--50 to 80 degrees C (122 to 176 degrees F).

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Sulfolobus

This artist’s animation features Sulfolobus. Sulfolobus species have spherical cells with lobes, and they metabolize sulfur or sulfur compounds, thus earning the name Sulfolobus. This organism was first isolated from Congress Pool in Norris Geyser Basin by Thomas Brock in 1972. It was one of the first hyperthermophiles -- organisms that optimally grow above 80°C or 176°F -- and one of the first Archaea -- a domain of single-celled microorganisms with no cell nucleus -- to be discovered.

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Zygogonium

This artist's animation features Zygogonium, a green rod-shaped alga that obtains its energy by performing photosynthesis in the same manner as plants. These algae form thick mats near acidic hot springs and their runoff channels.

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