Microbial Life

The Dregs of Aeneas

bioluminescence“I snapped this photo of Yulya while she was collecting dripwater deep in the rainforest. I wanted to show off the bacteria’s faint luminescence. It lights up when disturbed and also at the water’s edge. We think it might be a warning to animals that can’t see well in the dark. The biofilm is delicate and the byproducts are toxic to most native life, even corrosive in some pools.” – Roselind Oakes, biochemist, Aeneid I

Aeneas’ rainforest features a unique microbial habitat that is entirely dependent on the activities of the “fog of war” pseudofungal layer. The waste products of digestion drip down with the rain and condensation. The soup, which is rich in alcohol and other nutrients, collects in puddles on the forest floor. A microbial mat carpets the bottom of the puddle and converts the alcohol to acid until the water’s oxygen is depleted. Older pools of standing water contain only a surface scum, since alcohol conversion requires oxygen. These colonies are quite stable as the thin layer cannot keep up with the supply of nutrients from above.

“We have a nickname for the soup. It has a high ethanol content, so we call it ‘Aenean Ale.’ But you wouldn’t want to drink it. It also has substantial amounts of ethylene glycol and methanol, both of which would make you dead in a few hours.” – Sandra Salazar, microbiologist, Aeneid I