The “hottest” topic I’ve ever researched
By Rebecca Hein
Huge advances in medicine, biology, law enforcement and paleontology were not what I expected to learn about when I began researching the discovery of a thermophilic (heat-loving) bacterium in Yellowstone’s hot springs. At first it seemed to me nothing more than a scientific curiosity. I had no idea I’d end up with the perfect retort to people who believe little of significance ever originates in Wyoming.
On top of all its world-shaking benefits, the amount of money generated by this tiny life form are staggering. In a better world, maybe Wyoming, Yellowstone or the National Park Service would have ended up with some of the money.
For me though, the fascinating part of the story is how an apparently small discovery can mushroom into a world-changer. First, I learned that simple organisms can thrive at high temperatures—198 degrees Fahrenheit. Next was the heat-tolerant enzymes these microorganisms produce, and all the resulting scientific advances. The DNA-based procedures, products and research we take for granted—in the form of medical diagnostics, Covid-19 vaccines and criminal-catching—support human health and society wherever adequate technology exists.
My excitement grew with my research until I could hardly think about anything else. I even thought about it in my sleep. It’s mind-boggling: Yellowstone’s spectacular, multicolored hot springs support a sustainable population of microbes that have helped, and will continue to help you, me and the world.
WyoHistory.org would like to thank the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund for support that in part made the author’s research and article possible.