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Research Finds Life 1000 Feet Beneath Ocean Floor
spaceref.com ^ | 3 Jan 03 | staff

Posted on 01/03/2003 9:00:10 AM PST by RightWhale

Research Finds Life 1000 Feet Beneath Ocean Floor

CORVALLIS, Ore. A new study has discovered an abundance of microbial life deep beneath the ocean floor in ancient basalt that forms part of the Earth's crust, in research that once more expands the realm of seemingly hostile or remote environments in which living organisms can apparently thrive.

The research was done off the coast of Oregon near a sea-floor spreading center on the Juan de Fuca Ridge, by scientists from Oregon State University and several other institutions. It will be published Friday in the journal Science.

In 3.5 million-year-old crust almost 1,000 feet beneath the bottom of the ocean, researchers found moderately hot water moving through the heavily-fractured basalt. The water was depleted in sulfate and greatly enriched with ammonium, suggesting biological activity in a high-pressure, undersea location far from the types of carbon or energy sources upon which most life on Earth is based.It was one of the most precise biological samplings ever taken from deep under the ocean floor, scientists say.

"This is one of the best views we've ever had of this difficult-to-reach location in the Earth's crust and the life forms that live in it," said Michael Rappe, a research associate at OSU. "Until now we knew practically nothing about the biology of areas such as this, but we found about the same amount of bacteria in that water as you might find in surrounding seawater in the ocean. It was abundant."

According to Steve Giovannoni, an OSU professor of microbiology and one of the co-authors of the publication, the work represented a highly complicated "plumbing job," among other things. It took advantage of an existing hole and pipe casing that had been drilled previously in that area by the Ocean Drilling Program, through about 825 feet of sedimentary deposits on the ocean floor and another 175 feet of basalt, or hardened lava about 3.5 million years old.

Using the existing casing, scientists were able to fit an experimental seal and deliver to the seafloor, for testing and characterization, the crustal fluids from far below. "People have wondered for a long time what types of organisms might live within Earth's crust," Giovannoni said. "This has given us one of the best looks we've ever had at that environment."

The researchers found organisms growing without the need to consume organic molecules, as does most life on Earth. Instead, they processed carbon dioxide and inorganic molecules such as sulfide or hydrogen. DNA analysis of these microbes suggested they are closely related to known sulfate and nitrate "reducers" that are common in other environments. The level of biological activity was sufficiently high that ammonia levels in the subsurface samples were 142 times higher than those in nearby seawater.

"As more research such as this is done, we'll probably continue to be surprised at just how far down we can find life within the Earth, and the many different environments under which it's able to exist," Rappe said.

The deep ocean crust, the researchers said, is an immense biosphere in its own right that covers most of the Earth.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News
KEYWORDS: aliens; crevolist; evolution; life; panspermia; thomasgold; xplanets
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This species of life could occur on many planets. A sun is not necessary. The Milky Way could be teeming with these extremophiles.
1 posted on 01/03/2003 9:00:10 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: RightWhale
1,000 feet? That translates to 5,000 toes!
2 posted on 01/03/2003 9:02:46 AM PST by Registered
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To: RightWhale
Care to place a bet about how much life Europa has under its waters?
3 posted on 01/03/2003 9:05:30 AM PST by Centurion2000
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To: RightWhale
"It's life, Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it, not as we know it..."
4 posted on 01/03/2003 9:06:09 AM PST by mhking
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To: Centurion2000
Is Europa depleted in sulfate and greatly enriched with ammonium? Could have a huge biomass.
5 posted on 01/03/2003 9:08:48 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: RightWhale
The deep ocean crust, the researchers said, is an immense biosphere in its own right that covers most of the Earth.

Gee, sort of reminds me of

The Deep, Hot Biosphere
6 posted on 01/03/2003 9:11:18 AM PST by aruanan
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To: aruanan
Thomas Gold had a lot of good observations. He said some things just to be controversial, I am sure, to sell books and be invited on radio interviews.
7 posted on 01/03/2003 9:14:12 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: Registered
1,000 feet? That translates to 5,000 toes!

10,000 toes, or are you one-footed, maggot? :D

8 posted on 01/03/2003 9:16:13 AM PST by xJones
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To: RightWhale
>>DNA analysis of these microbes suggested they are closely related to known sulfate and nitrate "reducers" that are common in other environments<<

Sounds like nano tech.
9 posted on 01/03/2003 9:17:03 AM PST by RobRoy
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To: xJones
10,000 / 1000 = 10

I only have five toes on each foot, although ten could be usefull for tree swinging, if they're long enough.
10 posted on 01/03/2003 9:19:14 AM PST by RobRoy
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To: RobRoy
Sorry, I think of feet in pairs.
11 posted on 01/03/2003 9:22:25 AM PST by xJones
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To: Registered
That translates to 5,000 toes!


Six-toed feet are not uncommon. Some people say that Marilyn Monroe had six toes on her left foot. We'll have to check with Dick Morris.

12 posted on 01/03/2003 9:23:18 AM PST by Consort
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To: RightWhale
Thomas Gold had a lot of good observations. He said some things just to be controversial, I am sure, to sell books and be invited on radio interviews.

Given his CV, I don't think he has a need to do that.
13 posted on 01/03/2003 9:23:24 AM PST by aruanan
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To: RightWhale
Research Finds Life 1000 Feet Beneath Ocean Floor

In a related development today. Newly announced Presidential candiate Senator Edwards announced that he would be the champion of poor undersea life.

14 posted on 01/03/2003 9:26:33 AM PST by AxelPaulsenJr
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To: aruanan
I was thinking of Stephen Jay Gould. Got them confused. Thomas Gold is, of course, highly accomplished.


15 posted on 01/03/2003 9:31:16 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: RightWhale
Wow, I had no idea that Bill Clinton had moved away from New York!
16 posted on 01/03/2003 9:36:49 AM PST by eisch
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To: xJones
I know, I was just funnin' ya!
17 posted on 01/03/2003 9:37:27 AM PST by RobRoy
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To: Jimer
isnt it the dominant gene, and five the recessive?
18 posted on 01/03/2003 9:56:58 AM PST by Revelation 911
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To: Centurion2000
I'll take that bet...
...I'm saying that there is *some*.

I'm not saying anything about intelligence, however.

Given the rarity of the apology on this forum, I'm betting for one sincere apology against the same.
19 posted on 01/03/2003 9:59:26 AM PST by Maelstrom
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To: RightWhale
Hopefully scientists will discover the microbes that create oil and oil will become a renewable, low cost, high quality energy source.
20 posted on 01/03/2003 10:07:06 AM PST by Gary Boldwater
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To: Gary Boldwater
Did oil and natural gas production by the planet stop the day the first oil well tapped in? No, of course not. Oil and natural gas are being constantly renewed, it cannot be otherwise. The rate of renewal versus the rate of usage might be a question, and perhaps these can be brought into balance by increasing production artificially and reducing usage by going to other energy sources. Achieving that balance will also be more expensive than now. Oil and natural gas are about the cheapest commodities there are.
21 posted on 01/03/2003 10:15:04 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: Gary Boldwater
Hopefully scientists will discover the microbes that create oil and oil will become a renewable, low cost, high quality energy source.

Microbes more likely than not live off the oil/methane rather than create it. The degree of light rotation in petroleum is too little for it to be product of biogenesis; however, it's just about right if the oil were of abiogenic origin and contaminated by bacteria. For a good summary of the abiogenesis versus biogenesis points go to The Origin of Methane (and Oil) in the Crust of the Earth by Thomas Gold, U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1570, The Future of Energy Gases, 1993.
22 posted on 01/03/2003 10:47:51 AM PST by aruanan
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To: RightWhale
I was thinking of Stephen Jay Gould.

Since Gould is dead, it would take some *really* controversial things to get him "invited on radio interviews". ;-)

23 posted on 01/03/2003 10:54:27 AM PST by Dan Day
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To: Dan Day
Gould is dead

It appears so. An illness took him early. An evolutionist crusader. Did the microbes in the earth's crust under the seabed evolve from the same hypoothetical original living thing that we did?

24 posted on 01/03/2003 10:58:45 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: RightWhale
Did oil and natural gas production by the planet stop the day the first oil well tapped in? No, of course not. Oil and natural gas are being constantly renewed, it cannot be otherwise.

Correct, of course.

The rate of renewal versus the rate of usage might be a question, and perhaps these can be brought into balance by increasing production artificially and reducing usage by going to other energy sources.

Then again, "perhaps" not.

I've heard a lot of people get all excited about that prospect, but most likely the "renewal" rate is glacierly slow compared to the rate we're consuming it. For example, if it takes a "mere" ten million years for a reservoir to form, that means that we're using it up roughly a million times faster than it can be renewed. Even if we could speed up the natural process by a factor of ten-thousand-fold, it would only increase our actual pumping yield by a whopping 1%...

Achieving that balance will also be more expensive than now. Oil and natural gas are about the cheapest commodities there are.

The other catch is that it's likely that speeding up the natural process would necessarily involve our *adding* energy to the system -- at least as much (and probably more) than we'd get from subsequently using the resulting "fast oil". There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, energy-wise.

25 posted on 01/03/2003 11:07:13 AM PST by Dan Day
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To: RightWhale
Did the microbes in the earth's crust under the seabed evolve from the same hypoothetical original living thing that we did?

For your answer, reread the original article: "DNA analysis of these microbes suggested they are closely related to known sulfate and nitrate "reducers" that are common in other environments."

Short form: "Yes".

26 posted on 01/03/2003 11:11:26 AM PST by Dan Day
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To: Dan Day
Was thinking of huge factories with vats of oil microbes bubbling and making oil for our machines, and nuke power plants taking over primary energy production from oil and natural gas. Coal-fired plants would work for a couple of centuries more, too, and then we could migrate to charcoal. It will cost more than our present bargain, but there is no need to fear running out of oil.
27 posted on 01/03/2003 11:14:14 AM PST by RightWhale
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To: Dan Day
The other catch is that it's likely that speeding up the natural process would necessarily involve our *adding* energy to the system

Maybe we can use nuclear power for that... :)

28 posted on 01/03/2003 11:33:01 AM PST by lepton
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To: aruanan
Thank you for the very informative link.
29 posted on 01/03/2003 11:41:29 AM PST by Gary Boldwater
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To: lepton
Maybe we can use nuclear power for that... :)

With fast breeder reactors, we can have all the electric power we'll need for tens of thousands of years.
30 posted on 01/03/2003 11:44:10 AM PST by aruanan
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To: aruanan
With fast breeder reactors, we can have all the electric power we'll need for tens of thousands of years.

Ummm. Actually I was thinking of the ridiculous idea of using nuclear power to take CO2 and water to make gasoline and asphalt. Nuclear power is the way to go for high-density electrical production. ...but the greenies oppose it religiously.

31 posted on 01/03/2003 11:52:34 AM PST by lepton
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To: RightWhale
bump
32 posted on 01/03/2003 11:57:22 AM PST by VOA
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To: RightWhale
read later
33 posted on 01/03/2003 12:53:16 PM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: Registered
1,000 feet? That translates to 5,000 toes!

Or 5,000 Rat votes, depending on the paperwork involved. :-)

34 posted on 01/03/2003 12:57:42 PM PST by JoeSixPack1
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To: Centurion2000
Care to bet it will be the Chinese who find out and not us?
35 posted on 01/03/2003 1:00:32 PM PST by ContentiousObjector
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To: PatrickHenry
Ping
36 posted on 01/03/2003 1:01:59 PM PST by ContentiousObjector
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To: ContentiousObjector
We can't be worrying about Chinese. China is going into space, China has to find a replacement for their limited petroleum sources, and China has some embarrassing neighbors such as Pakistan and N Kor.

But we have our own problems. We're not going into space [ISS is a non-starter,] we're not building nuke plants, and we have embarrasing neighbors. China isn't worried about us, and we shouldn't worry about China.

37 posted on 01/03/2003 1:17:54 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: VadeRetro; jennyp; Junior; longshadow; *crevo_list; RadioAstronomer; Scully; Piltdown_Woman; ...
Life everywhere! Ping.

[This ping list for the evolution -- not creationism -- side of evolution threads, and sometimes for other science topics. To be included, or dropped, let me know via freepmail.]

38 posted on 01/03/2003 1:53:31 PM PST by PatrickHenry
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Comment #39 Removed by Moderator

To: RightWhale
Stephen Jay Gould 1941-2002

This was taken a few years before his illness.

40 posted on 01/03/2003 2:01:23 PM PST by stanz
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To: fissionproducts
Actually the sun is necessary.

Necessary for what? Apparently not for the formation nor the continuence of life. A large central mass should aid formation of a dense dustcloud and the formation of planets, but it needn't be a sun. Imagine that earth cut loose from the sun right now and set out for interstellar space, total dark, total cold. Would life cease to exist on earth? Correct. Life would not cease to exist on earth. Those microbes inside the rock of the crust would happily continue to churn out ammonium and eat sulfates forever or at least a few billion more years.

The sun, great to have if you have one. Not necessary.

41 posted on 01/03/2003 2:09:07 PM PST by RightWhale
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Comment #42 Removed by Moderator

To: fissionproducts
Everything heavier than helium came from inside stars. Doesn't mean those stars still exist. The one that made the material of earth was probably a supernova, and that star is long gone, blown up. The present sun could have formed at the same time as the planets in the system. The radioisotopes inside earth didn't come from the sun, but were created from the parent star. The sun we have now is immaterial to presence or absence of life.
43 posted on 01/03/2003 2:23:37 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: RightWhale
"This species of life could occur on many planets. A sun is not necessary."

Hence proof of your theory I respectfully submit...

Washington DC

44 posted on 01/03/2003 2:30:07 PM PST by SERE_DOC
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Comment #45 Removed by Moderator

To: SERE_DOC
That's evidence alright. It's not my theory, though. Even though Ward and Brownlee's book "Rare Earth" explains how the rise of intelligent life such as . . . ahem . . . us is exceedingly uncommon in the universe, the possibility that there is microbial life everywhere is not zero. In fact, the more we learn about extremophiles, the more niches there appear to be for such life, and many of those niches don't require much more than a warmish rock. Any planet the size of earth would do for a home even if it were far enough from a star as to safely ignore the star in any model.
46 posted on 01/03/2003 2:40:42 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: Jimer
Six toes! Are you kidding? Those are aliens among us...gotta go get my tin foil hat.
47 posted on 01/03/2003 2:41:43 PM PST by pankot
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To: fissionproducts
Helium also comes from the inside of stars

Indeed it does even this late in the life of the Milky Way. There is still a lot of unburned hydrogen out there, which means we are still youthful in terms of the life of the universe. We have a long way to go from here, our place of birth, and we could, if we wanted, do it the rest of the way without the sun.

48 posted on 01/03/2003 2:45:37 PM PST by RightWhale
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Comment #49 Removed by Moderator

To: fissionproducts
a red giant (betelgeuse) who is expected to "die" very soon

Sure. Our very own sun is expected to take this route as well, become a red giant and expand to such size as to eat the earth as the sun runs short of hydrogen. It won't supernova, though since it lacks the mass to do so. We ought to be thinking about moving to a better neighborhood. Otherwise, the sun is not particularly relevant anymore.

50 posted on 01/03/2003 3:05:37 PM PST by RightWhale
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