Navigation Links
Earth's highest known microbial systems fueled by volcanic gases
Date:3/3/2009

Gases rising from deep within the Earth are fueling the world's highest-known microbial ecosystems, which have been detected near the rim of the 19,850-foot-high Socompa volcano in the Andes by a University of Colorado at Boulder research team.

The new study shows the emission of water, carbon dioxide and methane from small volcanic vents near the summit of Socompa sustains complex microbial ecosystems new to science in the barren, sky-high landscape, said CU-Boulder Professor Steve Schmidt. He likened the physical environment of the Socompa volcano summit -- including the thin atmosphere, intense ultraviolet radiation and harsh climate -- to the physical characteristics of Mars, where the hunt for microbial life is under way by NASA.

The microbial communities atop Socompa -- which straddles Argentina and Chile high in the Atacama Desert -- are in a more extreme environment and not as well understood as microbes living in hydrothermal vents in deep oceans, he said. The Socompa microbial communities are located adjacent to several patches of green, carpet-like plant communities -- primarily mosses and liverworts -- discovered in the 1980s by Stephan Halloy of Conservation International in La Paz, Bolivia, a co-author on the new CU-Boulder study.

"These sites are unique little oases in the vast, barren landscape of the Atacama Desert and are supported by gases from deep within the Earth," said Schmidt, a professor in the ecology and evolutionary biology department. "Scientists just haven't been looking for microorganisms at these elevations, and when we did we discovered some strange types found nowhere else on Earth."

A paper on the subject by Schmidt and his colleagues was published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Co-authors on the study included CU-Boulder's Elizabeth Costello and Sasha Reed, Preston Sowell of Boulder's Stratus Consulting Inc., and Halloy.

The team used a sophisticated technique that involves extracting DNA from the soil to pinpoint new groups of microbes, using polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to amplify and identify them, providing a snapshot of the microbial diversity on Socompa.

The new paper is based on an ongoing analysis of soil samples collected during an expedition to Socompa several years ago. The research team also reported a new variety of microscopic mite in the bacterial colonies near Socompa's rim, which appears to be the highest elevation that mites have ever been recorded on Earth, Schmidt said.

Costello, a research associate in CU-Boulder's chemistry and biochemistry department, said small amounts of sunlight, water, methane and CO2 work in concert in the barren soils to fuel microbial life near the small volcanic vents, or fumaroles. Such conditions "relieve the stress" on the high-elevation, arid soils enough to allow extreme life to get a toehold, Costello said. "It's as if these bacterial communities are living in tiny, volcanic greenhouses."

The CU-Boulder team also discovered unique colonies of bacteria living on the slopes of Socompa in extremely dry soils not associated with fumaroles. The bacteria detected in such dry soils may be transient life transported and deposited by wind in the extreme environment of Socompa, with some organisms surviving to bloom during periodic pulses of water and nutrients, said Schmidt.

"These sites are significantly less diverse," said Costello. "But the thing that really stands out is just how tough these microbes are and how little it takes for them to become established."

Schmidt, who likened the high Andes to the harsh Dry Valleys of Antarctica under study by researchers from NASA's Astrobiology Institute because of their hostile, arid conditions, said the new research also provides information on how the cold regions of Earth function and how they may respond to future climate change. Research in such extreme environments could lead to the discovery of new antibiotics and other products.

A return expedition to Socompa in February 2009 by Schmidt included a Chilean scientist, an Argentinean microbiologist, a Boulder spectral-imaging expert and an Argentinean archaeologist. There is archaeological evidence that ancient Incans once roamed over Socompa, and the remains of three, 500-year-old mummified Inca children were discovered in 1999 atop the nearby Llullaillaco volcano, apparent sacrifice victims.

Although reaching the summit of Socompa requires two days in a four-wheel drive vehicle and two more days of hiking, recent footpaths near the summit apparently made by adventurers may have damaged some of the mat-like plant communities, Costello said.


'/>"/>

Contact: Steve Schmidt
steve.schmidt@colorado.edu
303-492-6248
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Developer of advanced computing memory, father of biochemical engineering, and innovative engineering educators win highest engineering honors of 2009
2. IEEE Fellow first woman to receive highest award in engineering profession
3. Fujitsu Announces Industry Highest Capacity 2.5 Inch SATA Hard Disk Drive at 320GB(1)
4. MSU researcher uses grant to study little-known but largely useful microbes
5. Census of Marine Life lists 122,500 known species, over halfway to complete inventory by Oct. 2010
6. Known genetic risk for Alzheimers in whites also places blacks at risk
7. Researchers develop new ultrasensitive assay to detect most poisonous substance known
8. Ugandan monkeys harbor evidence of infection with unknown poxvirus
9. Generalist bacteria discovered in coastal waters may be more flexible than known before
10. Book on little-known species and conservation provides guidance to managers and others
11. 390-million-year-old scorpion fossil -- biggest bug known
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Earth's highest known microbial systems fueled by volcanic gases
(Date:6/20/2016)... , June 20, 2016 Securus Technologies, ... technology solutions for public safety, investigation, corrections and ... prisons involved, it has secured the final acceptance ... facilities for Managed Access Systems (MAS) installed. Furthermore, ... facilities to be installed by October, 2016. MAS ...
(Date:6/15/2016)... ALBANY, New York , June 15, 2016 ... published a new market report titled "Gesture Recognition Market ... Trends and Forecast, 2016 - 2024". According to the ... at USD 11.60 billion in 2015 and is ... and reach USD 48.56 billion by 2024.  ...
(Date:6/9/2016)... -- Paris Police Prefecture ... to ensure the safety of people and operations in several ... tournament Teleste, an international technology group specialised in ... that its video security solution will be utilised by ... safety across the country. The system roll-out is scheduled for ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... WI (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... supplements, is pleased to announce the launch of their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, into ... for over 35 years, is proud to add Target to its list of ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... -- Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital has signed a ... serve as their official health care provider. As ... provide sponsorship support, athletic training services, and most ... athletes and families. "We are excited ... to bring Houston Methodist quality services and programs ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... SAN FRANCISCO , June 23, 2016   ... it has secured $1 million in debt financing from ... to ramp up automation and to advance its drug ... for its new facility. "SVB has been ... goes beyond the services a traditional bank would provide," ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Ky. , June 23, 2016 ... two Phase 1 clinical trials of its complement ... placebo-controlled, single and multiple ascending dose studies designed ... pharmacodynamics (PD) of subcutaneous injection in healthy adult ... subcutaneously (SC) either as a single dose (ranging ...
Breaking Biology Technology: