Investigation into Bacterial Growth

Steve Lewis exploring the Water Pipe Tunnel
Image: Jill Heinerth

One of the scientific tasks our team will undertake during the Bell Island Mine project this February is collecting samples of bacterial mats, sediment, and water at various collection points throughout the exploration area, and sending them for analysis to Dr. Cheeptham, in the microbiology department of Thompson Rivers University, B.C.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that because daylight does not penetrate caves and mine shafts, these environments support no life at all. However, this is far from the truth. Life will find a way to thrive even in conditions that seem harsh to surface-dwellers. Certainly in the dark, underground environment of Bell Island Mine, life is tough and organisms must find an alternate energy source to sunlight. But we noted very prolific bacterial growth on equipment and fixtures during our initial exploration.

Fascinated by this, we contacted Dr. Cheeptham, who has several papers published on cave life. Our hope was she had a grad student willing to research exactly what’s made its home deep in shaft #2. Luckily she agreed. Thanks Ann!