Boston and Cave Microbes in the News

by Kathleen Hedges

SOCORRO, N.M., July 25, 2008 -- Dr. Penelope Boston, New Mexico Tech's peripatetic professor of cave microbiology and (sometimes) Mars microbiology, has been in the news recently for collecting and studying microbes from Snowy River Cave, a unique formation in eastern New Mexico.

Right: Dr. Penny Boston in cave-exploring mode. The "moon suit" prevents contamination of the cave with external microbes.

Boston was recently the subject of an Associated Press story that has received wide national play. She has also recently filmed a show for the Discovery Channel which will be broadcast in early fall on "Into the Unknown with Josh Bernstein."

According to AP: "Boston has collected microorganisms that she believes are responsible for the manganese crust that covers much of the walls in the Snowy River passage. Once thought to be ancient and inactive, the microbes are busy in her lab, breaking down materials and producing mineral compounds."

Boston's research lays groundwork for robotic missions to other regions of the solar system where life might exist, especially in microbial form.

Dr. Penelope Boston is the director of the Cave and Karst Studies Program and an associate professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico Tech. She is also associate director of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute in Carlsbad, N.M.