Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New species discovered beneath ocean crust

15.01.2015

Microbes may play important role in the global carbon cycle

Two miles below the surface of the ocean, researchers have discovered new microbes that "breathe" sulfate.


This news graphic shows the innovative technology that allowed the scientists to collect samples of water from an aquifer two miles below the ocean without contaminating the samples with ocean water.

Credit: Courtesy of USC

The microbes, which have yet to be classified and named, exist in massive undersea aquifers -- networks of channels in porous rock beneath the ocean where water continually churns. About one-third of the Earth's biomass is thought to exist in this largely uncharted environment.

"It was surprising to find new bugs, but when we go to warmer, relatively old and isolated fluids, we find a unique microbial community," said Alberto Robador, postdoctoral researcher at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and lead author of a paper on the new findings that will be published by the open-access journal Frontiers in Microbiology on Jan. 14.

Sulfate is a compound of sulfur and oxygen that occurs naturally in seawater. It is used commercially in everything from car batteries to bath salts and can be aerosolized by the burning of fossil fuels, increasing the acidity of the atmosphere.

Microbes that breathe sulfate -- that is, gain energy by reacting sulfate with organic (carbon-containing) compounds -- are thought to be some of the oldest types of organisms on Earth. Other species of sulfate-breathing microbes can be found in marshes and hydrothermal vents.

Microbes beneath the ocean's crust, however, are incredibly tricky to sample.

Researchers from USC and the University of Hawaii took their samples from the Juan de Fuca Ridge (off the coast of Washington state), where previous teams had placed underwater laboratories, drilled into the ocean floor. To place the labs, they lowered a drill through two miles of ocean and bored through several hundred feet of ocean sediment and into the rock where the aquifer flows.

"Trying to take a sample of aquifer water without contaminating it with regular ocean water presented a huge challenge," said Jan Amend, professor at USC Dornsife and director of the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI), which helped fund the research.

To solve this problem, C-DEBI created Circulation Obviation Retrofit Kit (CORK) observatories. The moniker was basically dreamed up to fit the term "CORK" because these devices create a seal at the seafloor, like a cork in a bottle, allowing scientists to deploy instruments and sampling devices down a borehole while keeping ocean water out.

Samples were then shuttled to the surface by remote-controlled undersea vehicles or "elevators" -- balloons that drop ballast and float samples gently up to the waiting scientists.

Like the microbes on the forest floor that break down leaf litter and dead organisms, the microbes in the ocean also break down organic -- that is, carbon-based -- material like dead fish and algae. Unlike their counterparts, however, the microbes beneath the ocean crust often lack the oxygen that is used on land to effect the necessary chemical reaction.

Instead, these microbes can use sulfate to break down carbon from decaying biological material that sinks to the sea bottom and makes its way into the crustal aquifer, producing carbon dioxide.

Learning how these new microbes function will be important to getting a more accurate, quantified understanding of the overall global carbon cycle -- a natural cycling of carbon through the environment in which it is consumed by plants, exhaled by animals and enters the ocean via the atmosphere. This cycle is currently being disrupted by man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

"This is the first direct account of microbial activity in these type of environments," Robador said, "and shows the potential of these organisms to respire organic carbon."

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (C-DEBI award OCE0939564, MCB0604014, 1207880 and 1207874) and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

The full study can be found online here: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fmicb.2014.00748/full

Image: C-DEBI researchers deply the ROV Jason to collect samples. Alberto Robado / USC

Photos and an infographic showing how CORKs work are available in high resolution at https://www.dropbox.com/sh/w9n1tnquwdfgnmp/AAAm3H_eUPa7eOu3wjgEmlYMa?dl=0.

The credit for the infographic is "Courtesy of USC" and the credit for the photos is "Courtesy of Alberto Robado / USC."

Watch a video about C-DEBI's work with CORKs here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sSN1psBeXk

Robert Perkins | EurekAlert!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Flavins keep a handy helper in their pocket
25.04.2018 | University of Freiburg

nachricht Complete skin regeneration system of fish unraveled
24.04.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Getting electrons to move in a semiconductor

25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Reconstructing what makes us tick

25.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Cheap 3-D printer can produce self-folding materials

25.04.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>