Microbial life like you've never seen it before

Posted by Mark Raby

The vast but largely unexplored world of microbial organisms is the subject of new and exciting research in the world of microbiology.

It's believed that somewhere around a third of all organisms on the planet are tucked away in rocks and sediments, but the research into this wide group of living creatures has been pretty sparse up until this point.

That's where University of Massachusetts Amherst scientist James Holden comes in. He is working on an exciting new discovery about microbes that exist within the cracks of undersea volcanoes.

"Evidence has built over the past 20 years that there’s an incredible amount of biomass in Earth’s subsurface, in the crust and marine sediments, perhaps as much as all the plants and animals on the surface. We’re interested in the microbes in the deep rock, and the best place to study them is at hydrothermal vents at undersea volcanoes. Warm water flows bring the nutrient and energy sources they need," Holden wrote.

This kind of data can help us understand what metabolic processes on Earth would have been like billions of years ago.

"We hypothesized that the methanogens grow syntrophically with the hydrogen producing microbes, and it worked out that way in the lab with a strain from the site. So we have described a methanogen ecosystem that includes a symbiotic relationship between microbes, which in my mind highlights the strength of our multi-pronged team approach. It really paid off. We feel that more research coupling broad field measurements with laboratory experiments will be really fruitful in the future," Holden said.