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Crusty Microbes

December 29, 2010

A diversity of microorganisms lives in the hot rocks deep beneath the ocean floor.


Life under earth’s crust…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You might not think life could survive nearly a mile below the ocean floor, but scientists have discovered a variety of microbes living there after drilling deep into the mid-Atlantic ridge. Marine microbial ecologist Olivia Mason of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory identified a number of proteobacteria species from the deepest layer of the ocean’s crust, called gabbro.

OLIVIA MASON (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory):
Basically, we found microbes that could degrade hydrocarbons, microbes that are literally breathing methane.

She says they also discovered microbes capable of converting nitrogen and carbon gas into the building blocks of life. Deep within the ocean’s crust, temperatures reach 100 degrees Celsius, the point at which water boils.

We were reaching the upper limits of temperature at which life is known to exist.

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