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NASA's Announcement: Get Inspired With A Roadtrip To Mono Lake     First Posted: 12/02/10 08:12 PM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 07:15 PM ET

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By Megan Cytron

NASA's big announcement will surely inspire many to head up to beautiful Mono Lake, peer into the blue water, and ponder just how little we know about our very own planet. The fact that these newly discovered microbial oddballs have been there all along shouldn't stop us from trying to get to know their remarkable ecosystem better. The area around Mono Lake also happens to be drop-dead beautiful--literally a photographer's (that would be Ansel Adams') dream. The area is teeming with other enigmas and--for those who are looking for more straight-forward fun--ski resorts.

Most Americans will recognize Mono Lake. Ansel Adams loved this landscape, creating photographs that populate nature calendars tacked to walls around the country. Everything in this salt lake seems hypersaturated: the blue bellied sagebrush lizards, the unreal hue of the lake's water, the surreal tufa towers that rise from the water like upside-down coral... and as we now know, even the bacteria breaks the rules. Hypersaline lakes are known for their bizarre ecosystems and oddly adapted species. Like a mini Galapagos, life here evolves differently. In Mono Lake, scientists discovered the first organism to replace one of the six building blocks of all known life—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus—with another element, in this case, phosphorous swapped for poisonous arsenic. Oddly enough, arsenic is only a trace element here and the lake is full of other phosphorous-friendly life (like brine shrimp and algae) that share our same evolutionary trajectory.

By: Megan Cytron | Photo: Ottofunk9
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