Honors Program Theses


Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Marek Sliwinski


Moonmilk is a white substance mainly composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) that is often found in limestone caves. It is one of many mineral composites, or speleothems, in Wind Cave National Park South Dakota and is thought to be formed by microbial activity. This cave system is a complex, isolated environment that serves as an analog for similar domains beyond the Earth. Each site has varying degrees of human exposure, from public tour routes to caverns only occasionally visited by park rangers, making it an ideal place of study for pristine samples in extreme conditions. Wind Cave also varies in moisture as well as abundance of moonmilk deposits. By sampling these locations and extracting microbial DNA, we will then be able to measure microbial diversity. The resulting dataset will allow us in the future to estimate how much of the human microbiome transfers to moonmilk, determine whether there is a correlation between microbial diversity and hydration, and offer insights into the microbial composition of moonmilk and their role in its formation. DNA will be extracted and a clone library will be constructed to identify specific microbes in moonmilk. The results of this study will not only add to the larger genetic map of Wind Cave being developed by the other students on my research team, but also contribute to a larger understanding of life in extreme environments.

Year of Submission



Department of Biology

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (10 pages)

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License