A Group of Deep-Sea Microbes Provides Clues to Early Life
Editorials News | Feb-14-2019
According to a recent paper in The ISME Journal, revealed how a group of deep-sea microbes hold clues to the evolution of life on Earth. Cutting-edge molecular methods were used to study these microbes by the researchers; these microbes thrive in hot, oxygen-free fluids that flow through the Earth's crust.
These group microbes are called “Hydrothermarchaeota”, they live in such an extreme environment that they have never been cultivated in a laboratory for study. This problem of cultivation was solved with the genetic sequencing methods called genomics by a research team from Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and the Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.
It was found that these microbes may obtain energy by processing carbon monoxide and sulfate. The microbes use this energy to grow as a form of chemosynthesis. By analyzing these genomes it was revealed that these microbes belong to the group of single celled life known as archaea and were evolved early in the history of life on Earth. This study indicates that the subsurface ocean crust should be studied for understanding how life evolved on Earth and potentially on other planets. It was also found that Hydrothermarchaeota have the ability to move on their own.
Stephanie Carr, first author on the paper and a former postdoctoral researcher with Orcutt told that by studying these microbes it can give insights into both the history of Earth and the potential of life on other planets.
In 2011, Orcutt and some other project scientists sailed to a mid-ocean ridge off the coast of Washington, the flank of the Juan de Fuca Ridge and used Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's deep diving robot called Jason and travel 2.6 km to the seafloor where they collected samples of the fluid that flows through the deep crust.
When the researchers will return to the Juan de Fuca Ridge in May 2019 they will build upon this discovery to continue investigating the extreme microbes thriving below the seafloor. Orcutt will lead a cruise using ROV Jason with this team to further explore the sub seafloor environment, leveraging funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA.
Orcutt said that these microbes living who can be called ‘buried alive' are really intriguing since they can survive on low amounts of energy, he hopes that these experiments on weird microbes can help to imagine how life might exist on other planets.
By: Aishwarya Sharma