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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid