Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Earth's highest known microbial systems fueled by volcanic gases

05.03.2009
University of Colorado scientists detect microscopic life near 19,850 feet

Gases rising from deep within the Earth are fueling the world's highest-known microbial ecosystems, which have been detected near the rim of the 19,850-foot-high Socompa volcano in the Andes by a University of Colorado at Boulder research team.

The new study shows the emission of water, carbon dioxide and methane from small volcanic vents near the summit of Socompa sustains complex microbial ecosystems new to science in the barren, sky-high landscape, said CU-Boulder Professor Steve Schmidt. He likened the physical environment of the Socompa volcano summit -- including the thin atmosphere, intense ultraviolet radiation and harsh climate -- to the physical characteristics of Mars, where the hunt for microbial life is under way by NASA.

The microbial communities atop Socompa -- which straddles Argentina and Chile high in the Atacama Desert -- are in a more extreme environment and not as well understood as microbes living in hydrothermal vents in deep oceans, he said. The Socompa microbial communities are located adjacent to several patches of green, carpet-like plant communities -- primarily mosses and liverworts -- discovered in the 1980s by Stephan Halloy of Conservation International in La Paz, Bolivia, a co-author on the new CU-Boulder study.

"These sites are unique little oases in the vast, barren landscape of the Atacama Desert and are supported by gases from deep within the Earth," said Schmidt, a professor in the ecology and evolutionary biology department. "Scientists just haven't been looking for microorganisms at these elevations, and when we did we discovered some strange types found nowhere else on Earth."

A paper on the subject by Schmidt and his colleagues was published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Co-authors on the study included CU-Boulder's Elizabeth Costello and Sasha Reed, Preston Sowell of Boulder's Stratus Consulting Inc., and Halloy.

The team used a sophisticated technique that involves extracting DNA from the soil to pinpoint new groups of microbes, using polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to amplify and identify them, providing a snapshot of the microbial diversity on Socompa.

The new paper is based on an ongoing analysis of soil samples collected during an expedition to Socompa several years ago. The research team also reported a new variety of microscopic mite in the bacterial colonies near Socompa's rim, which appears to be the highest elevation that mites have ever been recorded on Earth, Schmidt said.

Costello, a research associate in CU-Boulder's chemistry and biochemistry department, said small amounts of sunlight, water, methane and CO2 work in concert in the barren soils to fuel microbial life near the small volcanic vents, or fumaroles. Such conditions "relieve the stress" on the high-elevation, arid soils enough to allow extreme life to get a toehold, Costello said. "It's as if these bacterial communities are living in tiny, volcanic greenhouses."

The CU-Boulder team also discovered unique colonies of bacteria living on the slopes of Socompa in extremely dry soils not associated with fumaroles. The bacteria detected in such dry soils may be transient life transported and deposited by wind in the extreme environment of Socompa, with some organisms surviving to bloom during periodic pulses of water and nutrients, said Schmidt.

"These sites are significantly less diverse," said Costello. "But the thing that really stands out is just how tough these microbes are and how little it takes for them to become established."

Schmidt, who likened the high Andes to the harsh Dry Valleys of Antarctica under study by researchers from NASA's Astrobiology Institute because of their hostile, arid conditions, said the new research also provides information on how the cold regions of Earth function and how they may respond to future climate change. Research in such extreme environments could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics and other products.

A return expedition to Socompa in February 2009 by Schmidt included a Chilean scientist, an Argentinean microbiologist, a Boulder spectral-imaging expert and an Argentinean archaeologist. There is archaeological evidence that ancient Incans once roamed over Socompa, and the remains of three, 500-year-old mummified Inca children were discovered in 1999 atop the nearby Llullaillaco volcano, apparent sacrifice victims.

Although reaching the summit of Socompa requires two days in a four-wheel drive vehicle and two more days of hiking, recent footpaths near the summit apparently made by adventurers may have damaged some of the mat-like plant communities, Costello said.

Steve Schmidt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Conservationists are sounding the alarm: parrots much more threatened than assumed
15.09.2017 | Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen

nachricht A new indicator for marine ecosystem changes: the diatom/dinoflagellate index
21.08.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Comet or asteroid? Hubble discovers that a unique object is a binary

21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Cnidarians remotely control bacteria

21.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Monitoring the heart's mitochondria to predict cardiac arrest?

21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>