Magazine article Oceanus

Some Things New under the Sea

Magazine article Oceanus

Some Things New under the Sea

Article excerpt

New microbe species discovered

In the quest to explore the remarkable diversity of microbial life on Earth, a German-American team of scientists has discovered seafloor bacteria (right) that can "eat" natural gases such as ethane, propane, and butane-and in a previously unknown way: without oxygen. The bacteria use sulfate instead of oxygen to metabolize natural gases into energy and organic matter, said WHOI biologist Stefan Sievert, co-author of a study published Oct. 18,2007, in the journal Nature. The bacteria may have played a role in the evolution of life on early Earth, when oxygen was sparse in the oceans and seafloor hydrothermal vents spewing hydrocarbons were much more common than today (see below). These microbes also have unusual and still-unknown enzymes that can break down hydrocarbons without heat and oxygen, offering potentially useful catalysts to synthesize compounds, Sievert said. The team included scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, GeoForschungsZentrum, the University of Hamburg, and RWTH Aachen University, all in Germany, and the University of Georgia. Read Oceanus online; "Microbes that 'Eat' Natural Gas."

Evidence for undersea origins of life

Scientists have discovered that hydrocarbons-essential building blocks of life-are naturally generated at the bottom of the ocean. The. researchers examined rocks from a seafloor hydrothermal vent field called "Lost City" (right), near the summit of the Atlantis Massif, a curious dome made of rock usually found deep in Earth's mantle (see below). Chemical analyses showed that the carbon in the rocks was not formed from atmospheric carbon dioxide, nor made by microbes. Instead, the hydrocarbons were generated by the chemical interaction of seawater with mantle rocks-conditions that were likely common during Earth's early years. The finding bolsters arguments that life on Earth could have originated at seafloor vents, according to eeochemist Giora Proskurowski of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Deborah Kelley of the University of Washington, lead authors of a paper published Feb. …

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