Saturday, June 14, 2014

What is a biovermiculation or bioverm?

A biovermiculation, frequently called bioverm, is a microbial community exhibiting a patterned growth within an extreme environment. Bioverms are of interest in overlapping natural-science disciplines such as geomicrobiology, speleology and astrobiology. Michael Lemonick, who also points out the significance of biosignatures and biofilms for astrobiological research, inspiringly illustrates the artlike biostructures of bioverms, which make
patterns on the cave walls, including spots, lines, and even networks of lines that look almost like hieroglyphs. Astrobiologists have come to call these patterns biovermiculations, or bioverms for short, from the word “vermiculation ,” meaning decorated with “irregular patterns of lines, as though made by worm tracks.”  
It turns out that patterns like these aren't made only by microorganisms growing on cave walls. “It happens on a variety of different scales, usually in places where some resource is in short supply,” says Keith Schubert, a Baylor University engineer who specializes in imaging systems and who came to Cueva de Villa Luz [a poisonous cave near Tapijulapa in Mexico] to set up cameras for long-term monitoring inside the cave. Grasses and trees in arid regions create bioverm patterns as well, says Schubert. So do soil crust, which are communities of bacteria, mosses, and lichens that cover the ground in deserts.
                                                                                              Michael Lemonick, 2014.
Are these patterns, which are based on simple rules of growth and competition for resources, a universal signature of life?

Keywords: biology, ecology, pattern formation, growth patterns, competition for resources, network architectures, scaling.

Michael D. Lemonick: The Hunt for Life Beyond Earth. National Geographic July 2014, 226 (1), 26-45.

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