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Publication Date

January 2009


We hypothesize that a reduced capacity to withstand or repair cellular damage from ultraviolet radiation may be present in cave-adapted microorganisms that never experience such conditions. However, a small number of previous studies have shown that some subsurface bacteria do not show greater sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) than surface bacteria. To estimate UVR sensitivity in cave bacteria, bacterial isolates were collected from Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico, U.S.A., and percent survival following exposure to various UVC and UVA radiation doses was determined. Cave bacteria from Left Hand Tunnel in Carlsbad Cavern and surface bacteria from soil and rocks above Carlsbad Cavern were grown on low and high nutrient media then exposed to 0, 10,000 and 20,000 μWs/ cm2 of UVR in a laboratory biological safety cabinet. Incubations were conducted at 15°C or 37ºC, in accordance with the isolates’ natural temperature environments. In addition, DNA repair capacity was estimated by exposing the organisms to various doses of UVC radiation and measuring survivability. Gram status and pigmentation also were determined. Results showed that most of the cave isolates were more sensitive to UVR than the surface isolates, but survivability data suggest that cave microbes retain some of their capacity to repair UV-induced DNA damage. Selection appears to have favored bacteria that can survive in this low nutrient environment, while not maintaining (or paying the cost of maintaining) unneeded traits such as UVR resistance. Cave bacteria appear to have maintained DNA repair capacity, most likely because of the need to repair damage to their DNA from other environmental stressors found in caves.


Ultraviolet Radiation Sensitivity, Cave-Adaptation, Bacteria, Subsurface, Caves

Document Type



Vol. 38.





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