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Probing life's extremes in Yellowstone

Frank Roberto trawls Yellowstone’s thermal pools for viruses and microbes. On a recent trip to the park, he hunted for bacteria that could aid in the production of biofuels and bioplastics.

Roberto dips a small plastic vial into the pool by hand, scooping up a half-cup of water. He caps the vial, then slides it into the red backpack sitting beside him on the cracked earth.

"That's a good sample," he says. "We should get something out of this one."

Roberto has been studying Yellowstone's hot springs for two decades. These days, he usually keeps more of a distance, affixing his vials to the end of a long yellow pole. But he's still after the same thing: microbes and viruses. Even the most inhospitable pools here — the boiling-hot ones with the same pH as stomach acid — are seething with microscopic life.
 
 

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