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: The source of the sky's X-ray glow

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Genetic study reveals vulnerability of northwest dolphins

Jul 02, 2014

New study estimating population genetic structure of little-known dolphins inhabiting Western Australia's north coast highlights vulnerability, according to a study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Alex B ...

Recommended for you

The source of the sky's X-ray glow

11 hours ago

In findings that help astrophysicists understand our corner of the galaxy, an international research team has shown that the soft X-ray glow blanketing the sky comes from both inside and outside the solar system.

End dawns for Europe's space cargo delivery role

20 hours ago

Europe will close an important chapter in its space flight history Tuesday, launching the fifth and final robot ship it had pledged for lifeline deliveries to the International Space Station.

Giant crater in Russia's far north sparks mystery

Jul 26, 2014

A vast crater discovered in a remote region of Siberia known to locals as "the end of the world" is causing a sensation in Russia, with a group of scientists being sent to investigate.

NASA Mars spacecraft prepare for close comet flyby

Jul 26, 2014

NASA is taking steps to protect its Mars orbiters, while preserving opportunities to gather valuable scientific data, as Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring heads toward a close flyby of Mars on Oct. 19.

Bacteria manipulate salt to build shelters to hibernate

Jul 25, 2014

For the first time, Spanish researchers have detected an unknown interaction between microorganisms and salt. When Escherichia coli cells are introduced into a droplet of salt water and is left to dry, b ...

How do we terraform Venus?

Jul 25, 2014

It might be possible to terraform Venus some day, when our technology gets good enough. The challenges for Venus are totally different than for Mars. How will we need to fix Venus?

User comments : 0