Microbes found in the ocean depths, 2 400m under, near Japan by researchers of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) have once again shown that life can thrive under extremely harsh conditions. The tiny microbes are single-celled living things with slow metabolism that are extremely tolerant to the extreme environmental conditions where hydrocarbon compounds make up their diets.
Humans might have bred the tendency of thinking that the world is about them and that they are the center of the universe. Regardless of what they think, the order of the universe operates with or without them – nature holds the secrets entrusted to her, and life thrives independently of humans in the most unthinkable places ever, while humans remain oblivious of what is going on beneath their feet and above the nearest sky. Sometimes, though, we do make miraculous discoveries that can only humble us: researchers of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) have succeeded in finding living organisms 2 400m under the seabed near Japan’s Shimokita Peninsula in the northwestern Pacific.
What are the odds of finding life in such a remote ecosystem? The scientists admit to have been amazed by the discovery.
One of them said: “We keep looking for life, and we keep finding it, and it keeps surprising us as to what it appears to be capable of.”
To reach the darkest depths, a monster drill was used 1 000m under the waves, cutting through 2 446m of rock beneath the water.
The samples taken revealed the presence of microbes that were resistant to darknesses, absence of oxygen, and limited nutrients.
To understand the nature of the organisms, the scientists tested their food habits. “We chose these coal beds because we knew there was carbon, and we knew that this carbon was about as tasty to eat, when it comes to coal, as you could get for microbes. The thought was that while there are some microbes that can eat compounds in coal directly, there may be smaller organic compounds – methane and other types of hydrocarbons – sourced from the coal that the microbes could eat as well.” It was thus demonstrated that the microbes consumed methyl compounds. These results also showed that the microbes had a specially slow metabolism.
This study, as all scientific researches, has also put forth more questions as some have been apparently answered.
“Were these microbes just in a swamp, and loving life in a swamp, because there is all sorts of carbon available, oxygen, organic matter… and then that gets buried?” wondered Dr Trembath-Reichert, one of the authors.
“… were they like microbes that were able to travel down to those depths from the surface?”
The miracle of life can never fail to amaze us. If living things can exist in such harsh environments, does this mean that the universe is hiding away from us creatures in remote places in space?