Mother Nature's Underground Rock Star

Hazel Barton is a bona fide rock star. Not only is she a leader in her field - microbiology, where her innovative work is aiding cancer researchers - but she's also a star among the rocks, rocks that she examines hundreds, often thousands of feet below the surface of the earth.

Recently, Phil Keoghan met up with her - don't ask where, he's not going to spill the beans - to watch her as she digs deep for the truth. Here's Phil's report:

"We're squirming into one of her favorite haunts and I've sworn to keep the location secret, because it's filled with biological buried treasure. The underground caves where we are about to dive are a treasure trove for Hazel Barton because microscopic extreme-ophiles live, thrive & survive in extreme environments … with no sunlight and no perceivable source of energy. Extracting their enzymes could lead to powerful new antibiotics, saving thousands of lives a year.

"She told me, "'People used to think that caves were barren and lifeless, but they're actually full of micro-organisms and you're gonna see them all over the walls in there. The potential is huge - I mean everything we're learning about extremophiles is just blowing everyone's mind's,"'

"Barton's passion to hunt for these creatures is insatiable. From Venezuela to Greenland -- she routinely goes where no human has gone before.

"She told me, ' Literally, yours can be the first footprints through a room, you can be the first human to ever see something. Apart from astronauts or people who go to deep oceans, caving is really the only thing that allows you to do that as a common person.'

"She's discovered hundreds of new species, changing the engineering of everything from disease fighting drugs to solar panels. Barton's lab is part of a $38 million science center at Northern Kentucky University. This is where the long & painstaking work really takes place and Hazel insists it's every bit as exciting as the field work.

"'You know when you have those Eureka moments?' she asked me 'You're like - I never thought of that, I never put those things together. It's a giant jigsaw puzzle and when you put a new piece in that puzzle everything starts making sense.'

"Hazel and I finally donned scuba gear after we entered an enormous underground cave, which took us almost 2 hours of sloshing around to reach. Before we dove down, she explained, 'People do not understanding how valuable caves are as a resource. So if we can find organisms that give pristine caves value because they're only found in those environments, then hopefully people will start thinking about (that); maybe there's something in there that's worth something, how can I protect that?'"

If you'd like to find out more about Hazel Barton's work, these Web sites have more information: