An interdisciplinary international research team from the University of Rhode Island discovered a previously undiscovered single-celled organism in a location they would not have expected.
“Water boils at the (Earth’s) surface at 100 degrees Celsius, and we found organisms living in sediments at 120 degrees Celsius,” said Arthur Spivack, professor of oceanography at URI, who led the geochemical work of the 2016 expedition coordinated by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and the German MARUM Center for Marine and Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen.
The research was done as part of the function of NASA’s Project 370.
The findings from an 8-week 2017 expedition in the Arabian Sea were published in the journal Science in June 2018.
The news is about an announcement that microbes plentiful on the seafloor are similar to those present on the soil. Researchers from the Japan Marine-Earth Science Group, the University of Bremen, Hyogo University, Kochi University, and the University of Rhode Island discovered 40,000 species of microorganisms in the ocean.
The research, published in Science, focused on the Nankai Trough off of Japan’s coast and how they sampled the deep-sea sediment up to 1,180 meters deep.
The author of the paper is Professor Kai-Uwe Hinrichs, also known as “Perky”.
Spivack, who was part of the URI team, clarified that to determine if life existed on Mars, scientists look for signs of metabolism.
We discovered chemical evidence that organisms adapt to harsh environments by using organic material in the sediment that enables them to survive. The URI team also developed a model for where the temperature was to be measured in the greenhouse.
“This research tells us that deep sediment is habitable in places we didn’t think possible,” he said.
While it is exciting news, Spivack said the research might point to the possibility of life in harsh conditions on other planets.
According to the report, deep-ocean conditions are harsh habitats for marine creatures.
Temperature and pressure rise with depth, while energy sources gradually become more limited as depth increases.
It has only been known for around 30 years that bacteria and archaea can live at such depths.
The deep biosphere is relatively unexplored; thus, the questions concerning the limits of life and the factors that decide them remain unanswered. To research the effects of low temperatures on low energy environments, deep sea drilling is required.
“Only a few scientific boreholes have reached depths where sediment temperatures are greater than 30 degrees Celsius,” states Hinrichs from MARUM. “The goal of the T-Limit expedition was therefore to drill a thousand-meter-deep hole in sediments with a temperature of up to 120 degrees Celsius – and we succeeded.”
Like the quest for extraterrestrial life, the search for life on Earth is a task that requires many technical elements.
“Surprisingly, the microbial population density collapsed at a temperature of only about 45 degrees,” says JAMSTEC co-chief scientist Fumio Inagaki. It’s interesting – at higher temperatures at the ocean floor, the sea bed is relatively barren.
By calculating the temperatures to which microbial activity returned, we found that deeper, hotter zones still persisted – up to a temperature of 120 degrees.
Spivack said the project is like going back to his roots, as he and David Smith, professor of oceanography and associate dean of URI’s School of Oceanography, were involved in a drilling expedition at the same site about 20 years ago, an expedition that helped begin the discovery of the deeply submerged marine biosphere.
Regarding the current mission, the team is continuing research on the collected sample. In order to analyze deep ocean sediment samples, it will take some time for a mechanism to be created.
We continue to develop the technologies required to conduct our study.”
Referenced: “The Nankai Trough is a sub-seafloor area of the Nankai trough.