Scientists at USC have uncovered evidence that even when hydrothermal sea vents go dormant and their blistering warmth turns to frigid cold, life goes on.
Or rather, it is replaced.
A team led by USC microbiologist Katrina Edwards found that the microbes that thrive on hot fluid methane and sulfur spewed by active hydrothermal vents are supplanted, once the vents go cold, by microbes that feed on the solid iron and sulfur that make up the vents themselves.
These findings – based on samples collected for Edwards by US Navy deep sea submersible Alvin (famed for its exploration of the Titanic in 1986) – provide a rare example of ecological succession in microbes.
The findings were published today in mBio in an article authored by Edwards, USC graduate researcher Jason Sylvan, and Brandy Toner of the University of Minnesota.
Ecological succession is the biological phenomenon whereby one form of life takes the place of another as conditions in an area change – a phenomenon well-documented in plants and animals.
For example, after a forest fire, different species of trees replace the older ones that had stood for decades.
Scientists have long known that active vents provided the heat and nutrients necessary to maintain microbes. But dormant vents – lacking a flow of hot, nutrient-rich water – were thought to be devoid of life.
Hydrothermal vents are formed on the ocean floor with the motion of tectonic plates. Where the sea floor becomes thin, the hot magma below the surface creates a fissure that spews geothermally heated water – reaching temperatures of more than 400° C.
After a (geologically) brief time of actively venting into the ocean, the same sea floor spreading that brought them into being shuffles them away from the hotspot. The vents grow cold and dormant.
"Hydrothermal vents are really ephemeral in nature," said Edwards, professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
Microbial communities on sea floor vents have been studied since the vents themselves were first discovered in the late 1970s. Until recently, little attention had been paid to them once they stopped venting, though.
Sylvan said he would like to take samples on vents of various ages to catalogue exactly how the succession from one population of microbes to the next occurs.
Edwards, who recently returned from a two-month expedition to collect samples of microbes deep below the ocean floor, said that the next step will be to see if the ecological succession is mirrored in microbes that exist beneath the surface of the rock.
"The next thing is to go subterranean," she said.
Their research was funded by the Keck Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Research Council and NASA postdoctoral fellowship programs.
Robert Perkins | EurekAlert!
Global threat to primates concerns us all
19.01.2017 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Reducing household waste with less energy
18.01.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences