Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Extreme life discovery in Yellowstone bodes well for astrobiologists

21.04.2005


pH value in rock pores where organisms live acidic enough to dissolve nails, say researchers

University of Colorado at Boulder researchers say a bizarre group of microbes found living inside rocks in an inhospitable geothermal environment at Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park could provide tantalizing new clues about ancient life on Earth and help steer the hunt for evidence of life on Mars.

The CU-Boulder research team reported the microbes were discovered in the pores of rocks in a highly acidic environment with high concentrations of metals and silicates at roughly 95 degrees F in Yellowstone’s Norris Geyser Basin. The new study shows the microbe communities are subject to fossilization and have the potential to become preserved in the geologic record.



Scientists believe similar kinds of geothermal environments may once have existed on Mars, where astrobiologists have intensified the search for past and present life forms in recent years.

A paper by CU-Boulder doctoral student Jeffrey Walker, postdoctoral fellow John Spear and Professor Norman Pace of CU-Boulder’s molecular, cellular and developmental biology department and the Center for Astrobiology appears in the April 21 issue of Nature.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

"This is the first description of these microbial communities, which may be a good diagnostic indicator of past life on Mars because of their potential for fossil preservation," said Walker. "The prevalence of this type of microbial life in Yellowstone means that Martian rocks associated with former hydrothermal systems may be the best hope for finding evidence of past life there."

Located about 20 miles northwest of Yellowstone Lake, Norris Geyser Basin is considered to be the hottest and most active geyser basin in Yellowstone and perhaps the world. It also is extremely acidic, according to the researchers.

"The pores in the rocks where these creatures live has a pH value of one, which dissolves nails," said Pace. "This is another example that life can be robust in an environment most humans view as inhospitable."

The process used to identify the organisms developed by Pace is much more sensitive than standard lab-culturing techniques that typically yield a small, biased fraction of organisms from any environment, said Walker. In this method, the researchers detected and identified organisms by reading gene sequences.

"Each kind of organism has a unique sequence, which is used to map its position in the tree of life," said Walker. "It’s a family tree of sorts that describes the genetic relationship between all known organisms."

Walker discovered the new microbe community in 2003 after breaking apart a chunk of sandstone-like rock in the Norris Geyser Basin. "I immediately noticed a distinctive green band just beneath the surface," he said. "It was one of those ’eureka’ moments."

An analysis determined the green band was caused by a new species of photosynthetic microbes in the Cyanidium group, a kind of alga that is among the most acid-tolerant photosynthetic organisms known, said Walker. Cyanidium organisms made up about 26 percent of the microbes identified in the Norris Geyser Basin study by the CU-Boulder team, Walker said.

Surprisingly, the most abundant microbes identified by the team were a new species of Mycobacterium, a group of microbes best known for causing human illnesses like tuberculosis and leprosy, Walker said. Extremely rare and never before identified in such extreme hydrothermal environments, Mycobacterium made up 37 percent of the total number of microbes identified by the CU-Boulder team.

Pace described the new life form in the Norris Geyser Basin as "pretty weird." "It may well be a new type of lichen-like symbiosis," said Pace, who won a MacArthur Fellowship, or "genius grant," in 2001. "It resembles a lichen, but instead of being comprised of a symbiosis between a fungus and an alga, it seems to be an association of the Mycobacterium with an alga."

While photosynthesis appears to be a key energy source for most of the creatures, at least some of Yellowstone microbes are believed to get energy from the dissolved metals and hydrogen found in the pore water of the rock, Walker said. A study by the CU-Boulder team published in January 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences indicated Yellowstone microbe populations living in hot springs at temperatures more than 158 degrees F use hydrogen as their primary fuel source.

The research effort in the Norris Geyser Basin shows that rock formation processes occurring in the hydrothermal environment under study make very real fossil imprints of the organisms embedded in the rock at various stages, showing how the distinctive fossils develop over time, according to the research team.

"Remnants of these communities could serve as ’biosignatures’ and provide important clues about ancient life associated with geothermal environments on Earth or elsewhere in the Solar System," the authors wrote in Nature.

Norman Pace | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Fine organic particles in the atmosphere are more often solid glass beads than liquid oil droplets
21.04.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie

nachricht Study overturns seminal research about the developing nervous system
21.04.2017 | University of California - Los Angeles Health Sciences

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

Im Focus: Quantum-physical Model System

Computer-assisted methods aid Heidelberg physicists in reproducing experiment with ultracold atoms

Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...

Im Focus: Glacier bacteria’s contribution to carbon cycling

Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.

A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A promising target for kidney fibrosis

21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine

Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy

21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>