Home General News 100 Million Year Old 'Lifeless' Seafloor Microbes Awakens With Food

100 Million Year Old ‘Lifeless’ Seafloor Microbes Awakens With Food


We have all heard about the lifeless zone of the deepest part of the ocean where the pressure is so high that no life form survives. Well, not really. Scientists have recently found evidence of life there – 100 million-year-old microbes are lying dormant there.

Researchers have successfully revived tiny microbes trapped dormant in a seemingly lifeless zone of the seabed for more than 100 million years, reports the Science Alert.

Researching Microscopic Life in Seafloor

A team of scientists from Japan and America was looking to see whether microscopic life survives in the less-than-hospitable conditions beneath the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean.

They got their answer: microbes that had been trapped in seabed sediments deposited 100 million years ago could be revived with the right food and a bit of added oxygen.

What’s so rare about this?

Which is impressive. The pressure is immense for microbes on the seafloor, all that water stacked on top of the seabed. Not to mention the lack of oxygen, few essential nutrients, and the measly energy supplies.

When life gets trapped in other high-pressure environments, fossils usually form given a million years or more, but these mighty microbes were very much alive. 

“We knew that there was life in deep sediment near the continents where there’s a lot of buried organic matter,” said Morono’s colleague, geomicrobiologist Steven D’Hondt from University of Rhode Island. “But what we found was that life extends in the deep ocean from the seafloor all the way to the underlying rocky basement.”


Life in ‘Lifeless Zone’

The soil the microbes were trapped in was taken from a 2010 expedition to the South Pacific Gyre, a seemingly lifeless zone in the centre of swirling ocean currents to the east of Australia, known as one of the most food-limited and life-deficient parts of the ocean (and a trash vortex, with all the plastic pollution it gathers at the surface).

how did they find it?

As part of a 2010 expedition onboard the JOIDES Resolution drillship, the team extracted sediment cores going as deep as 75 meters (250 feet) below the seafloor, which rests nearly 6 kilometres (almost 20,000 feet) below the ocean’s surface.

  • They found oxygen-consuming microbes (and dissolved oxygen) right through every layer of the cores, from top to bottom, and at every site they sampled in the South Pacific Gyre.
  • But the microbes were hiding out in very low numbers.
  • Onboard the ship, samples were taken out of the sediment cores to see if the energy-starved microbes had retained their “metabolic potential” and could feast and multiply.

How the microbes sprang to life?

The ancient microbes were given a boost of oxygen and fed traceable substrates containing carbon and nitrogen, their food of choice, before the glass vials were sealed, incubated and only opened after 21 days, 6 weeks or 18 months.

Even in the oldest sediments sampled, the researchers were able to revive up to 99 percent of the original microbial community.

“At first I was sceptical, but we found that up to 99.1 percent of the microbes in sediment deposited 101.5 million years ago were still alive and were ready to eat,” Morono said.

After their lengthy incubation, the microbial communities were sorted based on their genes.
The researchers reported the seafloor soils were dominated by bacteria, but not the type that form spores, which means they were ready to grow as soon as they were given the right food.

Some microbes had increased in numbers 10,000 times, and consumed the available carbon and nitrogen 68 days into their incubation.

“It shows that there are no limits to life in the old sediment of the world’s ocean,” D’Hondt said. “In the oldest sediment we’ve drilled, with the least amount of food, there are still living organisms, and they can wake up, grow and multiply.”

It’s not only at the depths of the oceans that microbes have shown how hardy they can be.

Scientists have also found microbes living in extreme conditions in Antarctica, as well as the driest deserts.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

Pratiti Nath
Pratiti Nath
Pratiti is a maritime editor and freelance writer based out of India. Having biotechnology and microbiology degree she writes on healthcare, medical, food, sports, and general news at Drew Reports News. She can be reached at pratiti@drewreportsnews.com
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