Past, present and future of studying life on the rocks


Did you know that rocks at the seafloor are covered with a film of microbial life, and that these microbes alter the chemistry of the rocks and affect the chemistry of the ocean? Bigelow Laboratory Senior Research Scientist Beth Orcutt is lead author on a new paper out in [140]Frontiers in Microbiology that describes the ability for rock-dwelling microbes to turn carbon dioxide into organic matter, using processes similar to photosynthesis but without sunlight. Orcutt and her colleagues from the University of Southern California and Harvard University performed their experiments on deep sea rocks collected from the Loihi Seamount underwater volcano offshore Hawaii, from the Juan de Fuca Ridge flank offshore Oregon, and from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean using both the human-occupied Alvin submersible and the robotic Jason ROV. This is the first work to demonstrate the speed at which rock microbes can perform this process in the ocean.

Orcutt was also recently awarded a [141]new grant from the National Science Foundation to continue her studies at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, to delve deeper into the lifestyles of microbes living deep inside the rocky ocean crust at a site called "North Pond." This award continues a long-term research project that Orcutt started with her colleagues back in 2011, which is documented in a recently released [142]feature-length documentary film that is freely available online. Orcutt and her colleagues plan to revisit the North Pond study site in 2016 or 2017 to collect new samples and to recover experiments deployed in 2011. Rocks at the seafloor are covered with a film of microbial life. Image courtesy of Dr. Beth Orcutt.News Sidebar