The gringa gets so excited about the search for life in outer space that I often forget about the overlooked frontier right here on earth… the deepest, darkest depths of our oceans. And some interesting discoveries have been taking place about 12 miles below the surface of the deep.
A beautiful, sparkly mineral has rendered up traces of microbial life. This is the deepest place carbon based life has ever been found on Earth. So far. It is suspected that underwater oceanic volcanoes spit out the pretty minerals. But what does it mean? Is there any value to this information other than a cool topic of party conversation that makes a person look brilliant?
Scientists at Utrecht University, who made the discovery 6 miles below the deepest point of the Mariana Trench, consider the microbes to be something like a “message in a bottle”. Studying them will reveal information about mud volcanoes that are otherwise unknown. Through chemical analysis they hope to find out things like what they “eat” which will tell scientists more about the microbe’s surrounding environment. But microbes can spin quite a yarn. They are the smallest building blocks of our world’s biology.
Microbial communities basically eat different types of carbon. As these communities feast, grow and produce by-products (microbial “poop” I suppose), all sorts of things are happening. This, in essence, is how the carbon based world we live was constructed.
There are different kinds of microbe classifications. The type of microbe found 12 miles under the sea is considered an anaerobic respirator. That means it releases energy as a by-product of the carbon based food it eats. That means that anaerobic microbe poop is really energy!
This energy then turns around and changes the minerals in the microbe’s environment. And depending on what kind of carbon it eats determines the kind of energy-poop related change that takes place. For example, when microbes eat lactates, the same kind of changes repeat themselves in the surrounding environment. But when researchers feed them glucose, all kinds of different things happen.
The gringa can relate. Glucose is really just sugar. When the gringa’s oldest son was a little boy, if he avoided sugar his behavior was rather predictable. However, offer him a soda and as soon as the sugar high kicked in, he went bananas. So, I guess we really did all originate from microbes! Next time I stare at a microbe under a microscope I will ask myself if that is one of my long lost ancestors.
So, I guess in answer to my question about the value of learning about microbes is that in doing so, we learn more about ourselves!
Image Credit: UK News Yahoo
Video Credit: Newsy Science