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 How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>