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Ancient Community Of Undersea Microbes May Resemble Early Life On Earth, Other Planets

Far beneath the surface of the ocean off the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States – and nearly a quarter-mile below the seafloor – lives a community of hydrogen-consuming microbes that scientists say are like those in Earth’s early history.

Buried deep within rock, these primitive microbes not only provide a glimpse far into the history of our own planet, researchers say, they also may be the type of life most likely to exist on any of a billion planets that contain water and volcanic rock.

Results of the study were recently published in the ISME Journal, a publication of the International Society for Microbial Ecology.

In their paper, the researchers describe how this community of microbial organisms survives using an ancient metabolic pathway for energy generation and carbon fixation.

“We went into the study expecting to find one kind of microbe, and we found others – similar, but a more ancient lineage dependent upon hydrogen,” said lead author Amy Smith, who conducted much of the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University.

“Most microbial lineages have metabolisms that have evolved over time, but these are some of the earliest, most primitive ones around,” said Smith, who now is a post-doctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.