Valeria Souza Saldívar never planned to devote her life to a remote and ancient oasis more than 1000 kilometers north of her laboratory in Mexico City. But a call in early 1999 changed that.
“It’s one of the best cold calls I’ve ever made,” says James Elser, a limnologist at the University of Montana. He had picked up the phone to invite Souza Saldívar to join a NASA-funded astrobiology project in Cuatro Ciénegas—a butterfly-shaped basin with colorful pools, or pozas, in the middle of Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert.
Neither Souza Saldívar, a microbial ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, University City, nor her ecologist husband and research partner Luis Eguiarte Fruns, also at UNAM, had ever visited Cuatro Ciénegas. That first trip convinced them to completely change their research plans. “Looking at those mountains and the water, I fell in love,” Souza Saldívar says.
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