One of the greatest natural wonders of the Fifth Continent is found on the Central Island off the western coast of Australia: Lake Hillier. The lake, which is 600 meters long and 250 meters wide, is highly saline and sparkles in deep pink among the green vegetation. For a long time it was not clear how this extraordinary color appeared. But a team led by Scott Tighe of the University of Vermont in Burlington examined the body of water and presented the possible reason for the pink appearance on BioRxiv.: According to this, an unusual group of microbes is responsible for the lake’s coloration.
The team obtained permission to sample water from Lake Hillier and analyzed it using a technique called metagenomics. Any DNA present in the sample is sequenced all at once and then assigned to individual microbial genomes with the help of powerful computers. Accordingly, at least 500 different microorganisms such as algae, bacteria, archaea or viruses live in the lake and can handle the harsh conditions.
Many of these are salt lovers, that is, organisms that tolerate very high levels of salt. Lake Hillier is always eight times saltier than the nearby ocean. These hallucinogens include red-orange sulfur bacteria Robert Salinibacter or red algae of species Donalila Salina. The combination of these and other microbes explains the lake’s pink color, the researchers wrote. The coloration of the microbes is in turn due to the carotenoids, which may provide protection from harsh conditions.
However, those interested can only view the lake, which was discovered in 1802, from the air. The island is a nature reserve and may not be entered without a special, strictly regulated permit. After all, domestic companies offer regular flights. It should also be possible to swim in the lake: apart from the high salt content, the water is probably harmless.
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