Birthday Greetings to a Landscape

Lioba Benold, Andrés Lozano, Dana Elmi Sarabi

Imagine the ancient oceans and the billions of years in which microbes were the only existing lifeform. Picture them slowly evolving and, together with geological processes, shaping the world we live in today. Now think about a place: a desert, a spring – a wet landscape where those very microbes that originated life – the common ancestors of our world – are still living in what can be considered a conservatory of ancient oceans.

This place is called Cuatro Ciénegas and, since its discovery in the late twentieth century, it has been considered the most biodiverse location on the planet – and now everyone wants a piece of this cake.

The ancestral bacteria in Cuatro Ciénegas are being studied by evolutionary scientists in order to understand the origins of life on earth. At the same time, astrobiology is looking for ways to apply this knowledge to the possibility of life on other planets while biotechnologists have been studying these bacteria to develop the next generation of antibiotics and anti-aging pharmaceuticals. In the field of environmental science, attempts are being made to replicate their collaboration systems to heal eutrophicated oceans, enabling local communities to develop their own biotechnologies. And, of course, this all comes with increasing tourism and its thousands of visitors seeking the perfect instagram backdrop.

Keep in mind, this is a delicate ecosystem entirely dependent on wetness.

Now picture this: an irrigation system that runs out of this landscape and drains it in order to feed the demands of a developing milk industry, effectively exploiting the most valuable resource in a desert – water.

After billions of years we might come to celebrate the last birthdays of this ancient place. Thus, a birthday cake becomes a tool to critically relocate ourselves within this landscape – which slice would you take?

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