Ancient Bacteria Still Busy In The Deep | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 93 Issue 30 | p. 44 | Concentrates
Issue Date: July 27, 2015

Ancient Bacteria Still Busy In The Deep

Marine Science: More than a mile below the seafloor, 20-million-year-old bacteria from a terrestrial era make methane from coal
Department: Science & Technology | Collection: Life Sciences, Critter Chemistry
News Channels: Biological SCENE, Environmental SCENE
Keywords: microbes, ancient, ocean, seafloor
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These 20 million-year-old microbes live more than a mile beneath the Pacific Ocean seafloor.
Credit: Hiroyuki Imachi/JAMSTEC
Scanning electron microscope image of 20-million-year-old microbes living more than a mile beneath the Pacific Ocean.
 
These 20 million-year-old microbes live more than a mile beneath the Pacific Ocean seafloor.
Credit: Hiroyuki Imachi/JAMSTEC

Twenty million years ago, forested land rich in coal was gradually subsumed by ocean off the coast of what is now Japan. This layer of coal, buried more than a mile below the Pacific seafloor, still hosts an active microbial population from that ancient terrestrial environment, reports a team of researchers led by Fumio Inagaki of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science & Technology, in Kochi, and Kai-Uwe Hinrichs of the University of Bremen, in Germany (Science 2015, DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa6882). The team took core samples 1.5 miles into the seafloor and found that the microbial population in the deepest portion was producing methane using coal as a carbon and energy source. On the basis of isotope analysis, DNA sequencing, and other analyses, the team argues that the microbes are not endemic to marine environments but hark back to the coal layer’s terrestrial origins, in the late Paleogene era, 20 million years ago. This report “marks the deepest detection of active life to date,” and there’s likely even more life lying in deeper layers to be discovered, comments Julie A. Huber of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., in an associated commentary in Science.

 
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