By Diana Northup and Kathy Lavoie


Pittis, Anastasia V.1, Gallegos, Christopher I.1, Lewis, Evan1, Johnson, Shane II1, Lavoie, Kathleen L.2, Yates, Ivan S.3, Chung-MacCoubrey, Alice.4, Dinger, Eric.4, Roth, John.3, Smith, Katrina.5, Toomey, Rickard.6; Walz, Jason.3; Northup, Diana E.1 

1Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
2Biology Department, State University of New York College at Plattsburgh, NY
3Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, OR
4NPS Klamath I&M Network, Ashland, OR
5Lava Beds National Monument, CA
6Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

A proposed treatment for white-nose syndrome (WNS) involves the application of UV‑C light to cave surfaces to kill the causative agent of WNS, the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Our goal is to determine if such treatment will have detrimental effects on native cave bacteria due to its high energy level output. Partnering with the NPS, we cultured bacteria from caves in Lava Beds National Monument (California), Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, and Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky). Swabs of cave surfaces were inoculated onto ½ R2A, ½ R2A with Nystatin Antifungal, and AIA with powdered rock from each park. Forty-five cultures from each park were sub-cultured until pure to obtain 200 pure cultures from each park, from which DNA was extracted and sequenced. Culture DNA sequences from each park were compared using Bioedit and a MATLAB program to select the most unique and diverse 100 cultures.  Selected cultures are being tested using a UV‑P crosslinker from Analytik Jena (Germany) to expose cultures and a control to UV‑C light for 5 and 20 seconds to mirror the UV-C irradiation used in the Palmer et al. 2018 study. Following UV‑C exposure, cultures are incubated in the dark at 8 oC for 6 days. To test if growth was impacted or not, ImageJ was used to measure surface area growth. Most of the initial 36 cultures tested showed extensive inhibition of growth from the UV‑C exposure in comparison to controls, which suggests UV‑C could kill some native cave bacteria. Our preliminary results suggest that extreme caution and further study should be conducted before considering the use of UV‑C treatments in caves.

About Us

Diana Northup

Diana Northup has been studying things that live in caves since 1984. She has a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of New Mexico, USA. She and her colleagues on the SLIME (Subsurface Life In Mineral Environments) Team are investigating lava caves in the Azores, Iceland, and Hawai‘i, New Mexico, and California (USA); how microbes help form the colorful ferromanganese deposits that coat the walls of Lechuguilla and Spider Caves in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, USA; how microbes participate in the precipitation of calcium carbonate formations called pool fingers; and the microbial diversity located in the hydrogen sulfide cave, Cueva de las Sardinas in Tabasco, Mexico. Across these study environments, she also investigates “microbes that masquerade as minerals,” to help better detect life on extraterrestrial bodies.

Her research has expanded to characterizing the external microbiota of bats in New Mexico and Arizona to investigate the native microbial defenses that bats possess. She has mentored numerous and diverse high school, undergraduate, and graduate students and delivered a TEDxABQ talk about her mentoring philosophy.

Diana has been honored by having her work featured on NOVA, BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and by being named a Fellow of the AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science]. In 2013, she was awarded the Science Award by the National Speleological Society for her achievements in Biospeleology and in 2015 she gave an NSS Luminary talk at the annual convention. Currently, she is Professor Emerita in the College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences and a Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of New Mexico, USA.

Kathleen Lavoie

Kathy Lavoie started caving when she left New Hampshire for grad school at Indiana University, and there were no mountains to climb. More than 50 years later she is still caving, but doing research. With a doctorate in microbial ecology working with Tom Poulson, Lavoie studies organisms in caves and their interactions, ranging from bacteria to cave crickets. She has been fortunate to study cave biology around the world, but particularly at Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Cavern, and Villa Luz in Mexico. She works closely with Diana Northup on geomicrobiology and the microbiology of lava caves. Lavoie teaches biology at SUNY Plattsburgh.

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