New research into the deep ocean floor yields promising results for microbiologists

Jun 14, 2010

Research by a small group of microbiologists is revealing how marine microbes live in a mysterious area of the Earth: the realm just beneath the deep ocean floor. The ocean crust may be the largest biological reservoir on our planet.

Beth Orcutt, a post-doctoral fellow at Aarhus University in Denmark and the University of Southern California, presented her new findings about this little researched realm today at Goldschmidt 2010, an annual conference sponsored by a number of international geochemical societies and hosted this year by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

"I think this research is exciting because it offers us a glimpse into a habitat on Earth that we know next to nothing about," Orcutt said. "If you consider how much ocean crust there is on Earth, and how much of that is hydrologically active, then this environment could be one of the most massive habitats for microbial life on Earth. There may be new species of life and new types of metabolism that we haven't discovered yet."

There has been limited research into this deep marine crust, so Orcutt and her colleagues have developed new hole-boring technologies to study living beneath rock on the seafloor. Orcutt must use a robotic submarine to reach this realm, buried under 2660 meters (1⅔ miles) of water. Then she must drill through 260 meters (850 feet) of sediment. The microbes Orcutt and her team study receive no light that far beneath the , so part of what they are exploring is how these microscopic organisms survive in such harsh conditions.

Orcutt believes this research also can yield a new understanding of the potential for life on other planets. The subsurface under deep oceans is an extreme environment for any life to exist. Such environments may be present on other planets, so Orcutt theorizes that life might exist there in the form of microbial organisms.

"I hope that the general public will understand that the ocean isn't just a giant pond with a featureless, unexciting bottom," Orcutt said. "The and sub-seafloor are exciting environments where microbes rule. We have to develop sophisticated experiments to try to learn more about these microbial habitats, experiments which will reveal new information about how life survives and thrives on and maybe about how life may exist on other planets."

Explore further: NYSCF Research Institute announces largest-ever stem cell repository

Provided by University of Tennessee at Knoxville

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

USC awarded $3.9M for lab under the sea

Feb 22, 2008

Think of bacteria eating rock. Now think of bacteria eating rock below the ocean floor. How about experimenting on bacteria in that rock 15,000 feet underwater?

Secrets of the deep may hold key to life on other planets

Sep 27, 2005

Extraordinary creatures who inhabit extreme underwater conditions are being investigated by University scientists in a three-year project. These deep-sea communities could reveal an evolutionary history different to anything ...

Recommended for you

YEATS protein potential therapeutic target for cancer

3 hours ago

Federal Express and UPS are no match for the human body when it comes to distribution. There exists in cancer biology an impressive packaging and delivery system that influences whether your body will develop cancer or not.

Precise and programmable biological circuits

4 hours ago

A team led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson has developed several new components for biological circuits. These components are key building blocks for constructing precisely functioning and programmable bio-computers.

User comments : 0