How to Burn a Biological Library
HE PLAYA LAKES west of the desert near where New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona come together are some of the strangest biological environments in America. Small depressions in the prairies, with areas usually less than thirty acres, the lakes pop into and out of existence depending on the rain.1
Year after year, the playa lakes cycle from dry to wet and back again. Inside these lakes, there reside vast populations of microorganisms that through the inexorable logic of natural selection have somehow adapted to an environment in which water, the key ingredient for all life, comes and goes with the capriciousness of a wandering thunderstorm.
In the early 1980s these microorganisms were what sent ...