"Members of the project descended the world’s deepest cave to collect microbiological samples from areas frequented by people and those visited rarely. The results draw attention to the importance of cave conservation, prevent explorers’ diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria, and also lead to discovery of important bioactive substances such as antibiotics."—Ieva Kieraite-Aleksandrova, microbiologist, caver, and Global Exploration Fund grantee

Photograph by Artūras Artiušenka

Picture of a team member descending into Voronya Cave
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Where: Krubera Voronya Cave, Georgia

Grantee: Ieva Kieraite-Aleksandrova

Krubera Voronya Cave, located in Georgia near the Western Caucasus, is the deepest known cave in the world. With the deepest explored point at 7,205 feet (2,196 meters), it is rightly considered the "Everest of caves." Lithuanian grantee and National Geographic Young Explorer Ieva Kieraite-Aleksandrova used a grant from the Global Exploration Fund to research how constant migration of people affects the cave's ecosystem and influences its microbial diversity. The goal of the project was to collect clay and water samples from parts of the cave frequented by people and those visited rarely or unvisited completely. Another goal was to examine the cave's sources of drinkable water for pathogenic microorganisms or products of metabolism harmful to humans.

In a conversation with National Geographic, Kieraite-Aleksandrova explained her research—and what it's like to venture more than a mile underground:

The team collected more than 30 microbiological samples from five underground camps as well as areas rarely visited by people. Total DNA extracted and purified from the samples collected in Krubera Voronya Cave showed that, despite extremely starved conditions, caves contain surprisingly wide microbiological diversity.

The results of this project will help to protect the cave's ecosystem and prevent explorers' diseases caused by potential pathogens. It is also expected that the collected data will open up prospects for further research of new and important bioactive substances such as antibiotics or antiviral agents.

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