Organisms which manage to survive extremely harsh conditions are called extremophiles. They have been found under the ice in the Arctic, around deep sea vents, and in the boiling water of hot springs. Their ability to survive these conditions makes them of interest to biologists. In particular, many extremophiles demonstrate a superior ability to repair their DNA, which makes them of great interest to cancer researchers. Andrea and Don Stierle have been studying the organisms which have been living in the pit, looking for new compounds which may have anti-cancer activity. And they have been successful, having discovered berkeleydione, berkeleytrione, and berkeley acid, all of which have shown anti-cancer activity. The structures for berkeleydione and berkeleytrione are shown below.
Makes you look at toxic metals in the environment a little differently now, doesn't it? Perhaps we should be harvesting more of the toxic waste dumps we have created over the years. It could be one of this country's biggest resources.
Microorganisms are better at making new and novel organic compounds than grad students. Soon, the only reason why faculty members will continue to hire grad students instead of microorganisms will be because grad students are usually paid less than what microorganisms would accept.