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Google, Intel founders support undersea research by UMass Amherst microbiologist
Date:8/16/2013

the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the first aboard a University of Washington (UW) research vessel and the second, ending Oct. 5, aboard the SOI research vessel Falkor, with SOI funding its operations. UMass Amherst graduate students Begum Topcuoglu and Lucy Stewart will join the first and second trips, respectively.

Holden says, "We're interested in microbes that live deep within rock, independent of light and oxygen, and the best place to study them is at hydrothermal vents on top of undersea volcanoes. Warm water springs bring the nutrients and energy sources they need to survive." Studying these relatively new-to-science species of subsurface microorganisms advances understanding of biogeochemical cycles in the deep ocean.

The upcoming studies at Axial Volcano will expand microbiology research Holden and others started there in the early 1990s. Last year, his lab group for the first time established quantitative hydrogen requirements for hyperthermophilic (super-heat-loving) methanogenic (methane-producing) microbes in hydrothermal fluids. Holden and colleagues are experts at developing and testing growth models for volcanic microbes. "The volcano has erupted twice since the 1990s, so our long-term interest is also to follow the cycles of what happens before, during and after deep ocean eruptions," he adds.

"Because this is such a little-known environment, we don't know the factors that dictate how life goes on, what traces life leaves behind, what sort of microbe-induced mineral changes takes place. This is of interest for the current Mars missions, for example. We may be able to develop tools and spectroscopic techniques for recognizing the bio-signature of an alien microbe there, so we wouldn't miss it. We might identify tools we would need on a spacecraft to say: 'This was made by a life form.' We could help the researchers roving around the surface of Mars with a question like that."

Further, some of the hyperthermo
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Contact: Janet Lathrop
jlathrop@admin.umass.edu
413-545-0444
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Source:Eurekalert

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