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Oceanographers develop method for measuring the pace of life in deep sediments
Date:3/27/2012

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. -- Life deep in the seabed proceeds very slowly. But the slow-growing bacteria living many meters beneath the seafloor play an important role in the global storage of organic carbon and have a long-term effect on climate. A team of scientists from Aarhus University (Denmark) and the University of Rhode Island have developed a new method for measuring this slow life deep down in the seabed.

Their findings were published last week in the journal Nature.

According to URI Oceanography Professor Arthur Spivack, the relative abundance of amino acids that are mirror images of each other in subseafloor sediment reflects the activity of microorganisms. The research team used this signature to calculate how active microorganisms are in the deepest layers of the seabed.

The deep seafloor samples were collected during an international drilling program led by the URI and Danish researchers. Advanced laboratory techniques were used to obtain the data. The researchers found that the metabolism of organic carbon takes place at a much slower rate in the deep seabed compared with all other known ecosystems.

"This study goes far beyond previous studies by showing that microbes in subseafloor sediment replace their biomass thousands of times more slowly than microbes in the surface world," said URI Oceanography Professor Steven D'Hondt. The mean generation time of bacterial cells in the sediment is correspondingly long 1,000 to 3,000 years. In comparison, the bacteria that have previously been studied in the laboratory or in nature typically reproduce in a number of hours.

"Seventy percent of our planet is covered by ocean, which means that seventy percent of the planet is made up of seabed consisting of sediment that stores old organic matter," said Aarhus University Associate Professor Bente Lomstein. "In some places the deposits are more than one hundred meters thick. Several percent of the total li
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Contact: Todd McLeish
tmcleish@uri.edu
401-874-7892
University of Rhode Island
Source:Eurekalert

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