Old Faithful Virtual Visitor Center

Lobby > Exhibits > Hot Spring Ecology > Microbes > Misunderstood Microbes



Microbes are partly responsible for the variety of colors of Orange Spring MoundMicroorganisms are often associated with disease, but only a few kinds cause problems for humans. Many microbes are beneficial and play complex roles in the Earth’s ecosystems.

Cyanobacteria made the oxygen-rich atmosphere of our planet possible. These microbes were the first photosynthesizers, more than 3 billion years ago. Without bacteria, we would not be here.

Microbes are the ultimate recyclers. Without them, decomposition would not occur and we would be layers deep in dead plants, animals, and piles of garbage.

Our ecosystem needs microbes to decompose matter and return nutrients to the environment. Without nutrients, plants would not grow in soils and without plants, there would be much less oxygen. Before plants evolved, all the oxygen in our atmosphere came from microbes. Today, microorganisms in the sea provide half of the oxygen on our planet.

Microorganisms found in Yellowstone's hydrothermal areas are helping scientists find cures for cancer and other diseases, solve crimes, and even research the possibility of life on other planets.

Dr. Thomas Brock points out features unique to Black Sand Basin

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Drawing of the outside of the visitor center
Young Scientists
Yellowstone Express
Why Geysers Erupt
Hot Water Treasures
Hot Spring Ecology
Scientific Research

This work is supported by

National Science Foundation    Yellowstone Park Foundation
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