News / Science & Technology

New Life Discovered Beneath Ocean Floor

Evidence of carbon-eating bugs at 1400 meters surprises scientists

Rock samples from the deepest layer of the earth's crust at the Atlantis Massif in the mid-Atlantic Ocean revealed the presence of microorganisms.
Rock samples from the deepest layer of the earth's crust at the Atlantis Massif in the mid-Atlantic Ocean revealed the presence of microorganisms.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Olivia Mason has found new life deep beneath the ocean floor. The discovery could influence how we respond to global warming gases in the atmosphere.  

Suprise find

A recent research expedition on a drilling rig took her to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a seismically active line of underwater mountains that rise from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.  Her mission was to collect core samples beneath the sediment and basalt layers on the sea floor to what's called the gabbro, the hard rock layer that forms the upper edge of the earth's mantle.  

While the gabbro is usually too deep to be accessible to core sampling, Mason had a lucky geologic break. "At this location there had been extensive faulting and basically those top two layers, the sediment and the basalt had literally been removed because of all of this faulting."

That left the gabbro exposed and enabled drilling through the hard rock. It took nearly four months to reach the 1,400 meter-mark, where samples were collected for Mason's laboratory experiments at Oregon State University. "I literally took that rock sample and powdered it and then extracted microbial DNA from that rock powder."

Mason says what she expected to find were microbes similar to what had already been observed in the basalt layer directly above the gabbro, and chemically identical. What she saw was strikingly different. "Several lines of evidence suggest that there were microbes in these deep gabbro rocks that were able to degrade hydrocarbons like methane. So it looked like there were microorganisms in these rocks that were able to use methane or to oxidize it."

Environmental impact

Mason says such bacteria have been observed before in oil reserves and contaminated soil.  

While it's not clear whether the microbes migrated down or evolved below the seafloor, research suggests that these microscopic carbon-eaters could play a role in storing carbon produced by climate-changing gases like methane.

"We wouldn't want that methane to escape into the hydrosphere or the overlying seawater and then beyond, given that it's a potent greenhouse gas. So something like methane utilization by these microbes is an important process and one that no one knew was occurring in this environment before."  

Mason believes the study is a snapshot of what might be a new ecosystem beneath the sea floor, but concedes that much more work needs to be done before scientists fully understand what these microbes are doing down there.  "So that we can start to really understand how important these microbes might be in cycling something like methane."

According to Mason, the next step is to grow these microorganisms in the laboratory, and to do that she'll have to collect more samples from one of the most inaccessible places on the planet. The research is published in the journal PloS One. Olivia Mason is now a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.  

You May Like

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid