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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor 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.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More