Yellowstone viruses spark interest of researchers

Laramie, WY – Scientists say that viruses that live in the hot springs of Yellowstone could have useful industrial applications.

Researchers at Montana State University and the Idaho National Laboratory are looking at viruses that infect microbes, not people.

Those microbes are used to clean coal-plant smokestacks and to process cellulose for ethanol.

Frank Roberto is a senior scientist at the Idaho National Lab.

He says the viruses can be used to alter those useful microbes.

"There are a lot of viruses used in laboratories now to genetically modify hosts," Roberto says. "And so, these viruses might provide an avenue for genetic manipulation of high-temperature organisms."

The scientists' latest discovery is that the viruses seem to travel in steam droplets to distant pools.

The findings will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.