red snow


“Why is it out on permanent loan, Sir?” I asked instead. Now it was his turn to ignore me. “When they started the program, you see,” he answered in a low voice to a question I hadn’t asked yet, “it wasn’t particularly secret. No classified information, just a bunch of scientists with an idea.” I felt a chill. This was Somerville Public Library where kids get their sufficiently outdated material for school assignments and hang out between the dusty shelves in the little frequented art section. “It started with a culture collection of cryophilic algae and microbes, for example pyrolobus fumari.” Sensing my bewilderment, he added ”you need to take notes, you know, you can’t expect me to explain every detail.” As I grabbed one of the H2 library pencils and a stack of note-paper from the table in front of us, he relented somewhat and began to lecture. “Cryophilic algae, also known as red snow, have specialized on thriving under extreme conditions in the polar regions. They grow in the very cold, acidic, high in ultra-violet radiation, and nutrient-poor confines of melting snow. Fascinating, right? Pyrolobus fumari, collected from hydrothermal vents about 200 miles off of Washington State and nearly 1.5 miles deep in the Pacific Ocean on the other hand, survive at 235 degrees Fahrenheit. And we cultured yet another microbe from a yet unnamed strain that Penelope Hoffmann insisted even remains stable at 266 degrees Fahrenheit, when all other life ceases. But the most interesting aspect is that these microbes and algae go through long periods of dormant life cycles. We have isolated microbes from the Siberian permafrost, about three million years old. Bacteria germinated from spores preserved in Dominican amber, 30 million years old!” He leaned back. I looked at him expectantly, but he remained silent. One couldn’t get comfortable in the library arm-chairs with their beech-wood frames and their dust blue fabric over a dense kind of upholstery material and I had fidgeted around in my chair since we had taken our places, but despite the position his malformed spine imposed on him he looked completely relaxed. It actually looked as if he was relaxed within the frame of his bent body, as if that was his frame of reference, not the environment. My initial anxiety had settled too and I had begun to think. “

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