WOODS HOLE, MASS.The microbes and viruses shrouded in darkness below the ocean floor are bound to become much less mysterious, due to a bold research program led by MBL Bay Paul Center Scientist Julie Huber and her colleagues from several institutions. The program has received a $2.25 million award from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
"Microbial communities dominate nearly every corner of our oceans, yet they remain vastly under-sampled and our understanding of them is severely limited," Huber says. This is especially true for microbes that live below the earth's crust, in the subseafloor, one of largest marine realms but also the hardest to access and explore.
Over the next three years, Huber and her colleagues will undertake novel and at times risky experiments some at the bottom of the ocean to understand the microbes and viruses in the subseafloor rocks of Axial Seamount, a deep-sea volcano in the Pacific Ocean about 300 miles west of Oregon.
The scientists aim to "break open the black box of deep-sea microbiology, and take our understanding of subseafloor microbial processes and the carbon cycle to a new level."
Because Axial is a highly active volcano that spews hot fluid from its depths, millions of microbes that are normally buried are pushed up in the vent fluids, where scientists can capture them for study. In 2007, Huber and other MBL scientists discovered an amazing diversity of microbial life in the Axial vent fluids, which were analyzed at the MBL's Josephine Bay Paul Center.
And yet, they have just scratched the surface of understanding this dynamic ecosystem.
Very little is known about how viruses and microbes interact in the subseafloor, Huber says, which is one focus of their research. "Are the viruses infecting the microbes? Are they killing them? Are they transferring genes? We don't know. The field of environmental viral ecology has come a long way in the past decade, and we
|Contact: Diana Kenney|
Marine Biological Laboratory