2018/12/19: scientists are discovering subsurface microbial beings that shake up what we think we know about life. Archaea and bacteria make up the majority of life in the deep subsurface, and it’s estimated that there are more of these kinds of microbes below ground than above.
Some 200 to 600 octillion microbes live beneath our continents, suggests an analysis of data from sites all over the world, and even more live beneath the seafloor. Together they weigh the equivalent of up to 200 million blue whales — and far more than all 7.5 billion humans. Subterranean diversity rivals that of the surface, with most underground organisms yet to be discovered or characterized.
There are basically two kinds of feeders in the deep subsurface. Some scavengers survive on leftovers of photosynthesis from the surface that have been buried for up to hundreds of millions of years.
“We are familiar with oxygen breathing, but the microorganisms have multiple options,” said Isabelle Daniel, a geobiologist at Université Claude Bernard Lyon in France.
Candidatus Desulforudis audaxviator, the cobalt, rod-shaped bacteria in the picture above, breathes what’s released when certain rocks meet water: “You take a rock. Put it with water. Heat it up a bit, not even extreme heat, and it will produce everything that life needs to go,” said Karen Lloyd, a microbiologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Other microbes even breathe uranium and expel the waste as teeny crystals.
Subsurface microbes might only reproduce every thirty years, or take even longer. If nutrients run low, the microbes enter a dormant stage and focus the little energy they have on maintenance.
They’ll reproduce when some other energy source comes along — and that takes time, perhaps geological time. It can take tens to thousands of years for a new population to replace an old one.
A series of energy revolutions-some natural, some technological-built upon one another to give us our rich, diverse biosphere.
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Captured live on video in its deep-sea element, for the first time, the Kraken of tall tales and sea shanties-Architeuthis, the giant squid-is coming into sharp focus, a flesh-and-blood reality. But why now?