A New Understanding of Undersea Volcanic LifeAugust 13, 2012 / Posted by: Aaron Gronstal
A view through the porthole of the submersible Alvin as it extends its mechanical arm to a high-temperature black smoker. Credit: Bruce Strickrott/WHOI
Astrobiologists are shining a light into the dark and mysterious world of organisms that live in our planet’s rocks and sediments. In the journal PNAS, the team has reported the first detailed data on methane-exhaling microbes that live deep in the cracks of hot undersea volcanoes. The study involves methanogens – microbes that inhale hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce methane as waste – and could help scientists better understand natural gas formation on Earth. The data will advance our knowledge of biogeochemical cycles in the deep ocean. The project also addresses questions about how metabolic processes on the early Earth may have looked, and what alien microbial life might look like on other planets.
The paper, “Hydrogen-limited growth of hyperthermophilic methanogens at deep-sea hydrothermal vents,” was published under lead author Helene C. Ver Eecke of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Funding for this project was provided by the NASA Exobiology and Evolutionary Biology program, the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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