Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Life, as it was in the beginning?


200 meters below Idaho, bacteria are living on basalt.

A new type of Earth ecosystem could be found on other planets.

Scientists have found a community of microbes unlike anything else on Earth. Conditions in this ecosystem could mimic those on Earth when life began, and might exist elsewhere in today’s Solar System.

Home to the microbes is a hot spring 200 metres beneath the US state of Idaho. Their lives owe nothing to the Sun. They generate energy by combining hydrogen from rocks with carbon dioxide, releasing methane as a by-product. These ’methanogens’ belong to an ancient group related to bacteria, called the Archaea.

While drilling into a hot spring where there is no organic carbon to feed more conventional life, Frank Chapelle of the US Geological Survey in Columbia, South Carolina, and his colleagues identified the microbes living there from their DNA sequences1.

They were shocked to find that more than 90% of the organisms in the spring were methane-producing Archaea. The technician "freaked out," recalls Chapelle, assuming she’d made a dreadful mistake. In most places, such microbes make up only 2 or 3% of microbial life.

Life - in space and time

Biologists have speculated for many years that hydrogen-powered ecosystems could exist beneath the ground. The methanogen community suggests they were right, says astronomer and astrobiologist Richard Taylor of the Probability Research Group in London.

"As long as there’s subsurface water and enough chemical fuel, you can get microbial life," says Taylor. He thinks that life began in such environments: "It’s life on the surface that’s unusual," he says.

Many bodies in the Solar System and the Universe could harbour similar conditions. "I suspect it’s going to turn out that life is extremely common," says Taylor.

Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa have both been suggested as places where life could exist on hydrogen, today or in the past. If this is so, says microbiologist Julian Hiscox of the University of Reading, UK, it will be several kilometres below the surface, well beyond the reach of any investigations so far.

Probing these environments is going to cost "an awful lot of money", warns Hiscox. A cheaper alternative, he says might be to look for biologically produced methane in martian meteorites on Earth.

Also, Hiscox says, the geological activity necessary to produce hydrogen may have stopped long ago on Mars, and be absent altogether on Europa.

The finding may give us an insight into life in time as well as space. Chapelle thinks that hydrogen may have been accessible and abundant enough on the young Earth to provide the energy for the earliest life.


  1. Chapelle, F. H. A hydrogen-based subsurface microbial community dominated by methanogens. Nature, 415, 312 - 315, (2002).

JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>