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The Microbes Below

June 13, 2006

To study underground bacteria, scientists have been pretty much just digging holes. Until now.


Underground wildlife. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In satellite images of the earth, it’s easy to spot the places that are barren or teeming with life. Now scientists are developing ways to peer beneath the surface, to discover where communities of bacteria live and grow. A leader in this new area of research is biogeophysicist Estella Atekwana of the University of Missouri-Rolla.

ESTELLA ATEKWANA (University of Missouri-Rolla):
We are discovering that as the bacteria grow and do the things that they need to do, they can change, transform, the subsurface to the point where when we pass an electrical current through the subsurface we can see changes.

The research is revealing the enormous effect bacteria have on the planet. The new tools for spotting the bugs could help scientists look for signs of life deep in the ocean and maybe even on other planets.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.