New life discovered in the deep Mediterranean

Jan 14, 2005

Scientists have discovered a new group of microbes thriving in extreme conditions deep in the Mediterranean Sea. Their existence in such hostile environments hints at the possibility of life on other planets.
The European consortium carrying out the three-year Biodeep project, which includes researchers from the University of Essex, now plans to test how the microbes tolerate these unique conditions. The group hopes their adaptations could be exploited in medicine, agriculture or other biotechnological applications.

The researchers tested four ‘brine lakes’ with salt concentrations ten times higher than seawater, a lack of oxygen, and a pressure 400 times greater than atmospheric pressure. These basins in the sea-bed east of Sicily are some 4km below sea level.

The European Commission-funded study aimed to discover whether the brine lakes, because their high densities prevent them mixing with the overlying seawater, represented isolated habitats in which novel life forms had evolved.

The evidence of life in one basin, the Discovery basin, which contained a high concentration of the chemical magnesium chloride, particularly surprised the researchers.

Terry McGenity, the lead scientist of the Essex group, said: ‘This preliminary evidence for life in Discovery brine, in combination with the recent finding of magnesium salts on Mars, and the possibility of a magnesium-rich subsurface ocean on Europa, one of the moons of the planet Jupiter, is tantalising, and has interesting implications for possible life on other planets.’

The research consortium, consisting of scientists from institutions in the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, France, Germany and the UK, made three research cruises to carry out the first detailed study of these deep-sea lakes and to sample and characterize the organisms living there.

Their findings are reported in the current issue (7 January) of the leading research journal Science. A number of new types of microbes, including a completely new evolutionary line, the MSBL1 group of Archaea, were discovered.

Professor Ken Timmis, from the University of Essex and the German Research Centre for Biotechnology, said: ‘Microbes are the most diverse forms of life, and have proven to be a rich source of products and activities that find applications in biotechnology, such as antibiotics and other drugs used in medicine, enzymes used in the manufacture of chemicals, and metabolites used in the food industry. This new diversity represents new potential for biotechnological applications.’

Source: University of Essex

Explore further: Exceptionally well preserved insect fossils from the Rhone Valley

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Raven soars through first light and second run

25 minutes ago

Raven, a Multi-Object Adaptive Optics (MOAO) science demonstrator, successfully saw first light at the Subaru Telescope on the nights of May 13 and 14, 2014 and completed its second run during the nights ...

Titan's subsurface reservoirs modify methane rainfall

43 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —The international Cassini mission has revealed hundreds of lakes and seas spread across the icy surface of Saturn's moon Titan, mostly in its polar regions. These lakes are filled not with water ...

Recommended for you

Modern population boom traced to pre-industrial roots

1 hour ago

The foundation of the human population explosion, commonly attributed to a sudden surge in industrialization and public health during the 18th and 19th centuries, was actually laid as far back as 2,000 years ...

Researcher looks at the future of higher education

1 hour ago

Most forecasts about the future of higher education have focused on how the institutions themselves will be affected – including the possibility of less demand for classes on campus and fewer tenured faculty members as ...

Now we know why it's so hard to deceive children

3 hours ago

Daily interactions require bargaining, be it for food, money or even making plans. These situations inevitably lead to a conflict of interest as both parties seek to maximise their gains. To deal with them, ...

How financial decisions are made

4 hours ago

Jayant Kale didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a leading expert in corporate finance and mutual fund investment. But he's happy he invested in that market early in life.

User comments : 0