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 else on earth and even give us clues to how life could exist on other planets.

The creatures live around hydrothermal vents - incredibly hot environments in the deep sea - and are unique because they depend on bacteria living inside them for their own survival. These bacteria take their energy from hydrogen sulphide in the vent fluid.

“They’re among the fastest growing animals on the planet – a full community can grow in just three years,” said earth and environment lecturer Dr Crispin Little.

“Vent communities are dependent on geochemical rather than solar energy sources and this buffers them from almost all major events, such as mass extinctions or climate change.

“Their evolutionary history is likely to be radically different to other, photosynthesis-based communities – they may even mirror life forms on other planets.”

Very little is known about the geological history of these animals, discovered only 20 years ago, in particular how they become fossilised. Dr Little and geochemistry colleagues have been awarded a natural environment research council grant to design and build seafloor fossilisation experiments to investigate this fundamental process. “We’ve already found a number of fossils, but don’t know how they came to be there,” said Dr Little. “Until we know more it’s very difficult to interpret the fossil record we already have.”

Pieces of hydrothermal animals have already been placed in titanium mesh cages at hydrothermal vent sites 3.5km down in the ocean. Dr Little will return to these sites in the East Pacific Rise off the coast of South America over the next three years to examine the fossilisation process.

See earth.leeds.ac.uk/people/little/ for futher information

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Wolves susceptible to yawn contagion

Aug 27, 2014

Wolves may be susceptible to yawn contagion, according to a study published August 27, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Teresa Romero from The University of Tokyo, Japan, and colleagues.

River red gum - more than just a tree

Aug 14, 2014

So much more than just a tree, the river red gum has been central to the tensions between economic, social and environmental values of rivers and floodplain landscapes in Australia - perhaps more so than ...

Kangaroos win when Aborigines hunt with fire

Aug 04, 2014

Australia's Aboriginal Martu people hunt kangaroos and set small grass fires to catch lizards, as they have for at least 2,000 years. A University of Utah researcher found such man-made disruption boosts ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

Aug 29, 2014

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

Aug 29, 2014

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

How can we find tiny particles in exoplanet atmospheres?

Aug 29, 2014

It may seem like magic, but astronomers have worked out a scheme that will allow them to detect and measure particles ten times smaller than the width of a human hair, even at many light-years distance.  ...

Spitzer telescope witnesses asteroid smashup

Aug 28, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the ...

User comments : 0