The year was 1987 and Bill Mahaney was doing what he does; playing in the dirt. Mahaney, a geology professor at York University in Toronto, was standing on a mountain in Rwanda with primatologist David Watts, observing some very hairy miners. The mountain gorillas were digging holes measuring 2 to 3 meters deep, and then eating the soil, presumably, in search of vitamins. Such dining is called geophagy.
Courtesy of NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center

Perfectly preserved ancient diatoms, a type of extremophile, from a deep ice core above Lake Vostok, Antarctica.

"I did the sampling, ran the stuff, nuked it out, [instrumental neutron activation analysis] and published in a journal called Primates,"1 says Mahaney, who now looks for extremophiles in outrageously cold places. "We got 500-plus reprint requests. People in all disciplines were interested," including zoologists, chemists,...

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