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Busy microbial world discovered in deepest ocean crust ever explored
Date:11/19/2010

to this formation, into rock that was very deep and very old, and found a wide range of biological activity. Microbes were degrading hydrocarbons, some appeared to be capable of oxidizing methane, and there were genes active in the process of fixing, or converting from a gas, both nitrogen and carbon.

The findings are of interest, in part, because little is known about the role the deep ocean crust may play in carbon storage and fixation. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas when in the atmosphere, in turn raise the levels of carbon dioxide in the oceans.

But it now appears that microbes in the deep ocean crust have at least a genetic potential for carbon storage, the report said. And it may lend credence to one concept for reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere, by pumping carbon dioxide into deep subsurface layers where it might be sequestered permanently.

The researchers also noted that methane found on Mars could be derived from geological sources, and concluded that subsurface environments on Mars where methane is produced could support bacteria like those found in this study.

"These findings don't offer any easy or simple solutions to some of the environmental issues that are of interest to us on Earth, such as greenhouse warming or oil spill pollution," Fisk said. "However, they do indicate there's a whole world of biological activity deep beneath the ocean that we don't know much about, and we need to study."

Microbial processes in this expansive subseafloor environment "have the potential to significantly influence the biogeochemistry of the ocean and the atmosphere," the researchers wrote in their report.


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Contact: Martin Fisk
mfisk@coas.oregonstate.edu
541-737-1458
Oregon State University
Source:Eurekalert  

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