The deep biosphere is uniquely suited for a geobiological approach, Edwards said, since a proper understanding requires genomics, analysis of microbe-rock chemical interactions and a timescale in the millions of years.
Edwards and colleagues will drill at a site near Bermuda through sediments that have accumulated over 7 million years. In addition, they will drill into the basalt below and then conduct long-term experiments in both rock types.
The observatory is expected to uncover new details about the microbes details impossible to obtain using only rock samples, lab cultures and other traditional methods.
In addition, the unique site with its deep bed of sediments enclosed by basalt will allow researchers to understand where the bacteria came from.
The bacteria could have swum up into the sediments from below or they could have floated down from above, Edwards explained.
Genetic and metabolic pathway data will help the scientists understand how bacteria at different depths in the sediment are related to each other and to other known species.
This in turn could offer clues about how the bacteria evolved, perhaps shedding light on the origin of life.
Still, the scientists are unsure of what they will ultimately discover.
No one has ever done a project like this before, so we really dont know, Edwards said.
|Contact: Terah DeJong|
University of Southern California