Although life seems rather rare and fragilea system in the Universe, its stability is striking: tiny microorganisms are able to survive in the most extreme places of our planet - from many kilometers of oceanic depths, where there is neither light nor heat, to hot vents of volcanoes. Trying to unravel such an amazing ability of extremophile organisms to survive, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) decided to study the lower part of the oceanic crust, which is one of the last lines of research on life on Earth. Organisms found under rocks in the Indian Ocean can prove that the possibilities of life can be even more amazing than we previously thought.
Where do extremophiles live?
Extremophiles are truly unique creatures,able to survive even in the harshest conditions of the planet. After analyzing samples of rocks drilled in one of the underwater ridges in the Indian Ocean, microbiologists from Tongji University in China were able to reach the geological layer, usually locked under the upper basalts of the earth's crust, sciencealert.com claims.
Hiding inside the coarse, chilled magma, onat a depth of 750 meters under the ocean floor, researchers discovered rare, but diverse microbes that could somehow survive in an eternal darkness and tremendous pressure. Bacteria of the species Chroococcidiopsis, microscopic creatures known for their ability to live in extreme conditions, have become one of such organisms; Pseudomonas bacteria became their neighbors, able to metabolize energy in several ways at once. Such unusual abilities developed in bacteria due to the fact that the conditions under the ocean floor clearly do not have much comfort, and microorganisms had to evolve noticeably to survive in hostile conditions.
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Some of the discoveredextremophiles are autotrophs - organisms that produce their own food using mechanisms similar to plants. So, although the microbes found are not so self-sufficient in comparison with their counterparts from the Atacama Desert in Chile, an analysis of enzymatic activity and lipid biomarkers showed that some microbes rely on the breakdown of organic matter to maintain their vital functions.
Feeding on the remains of organic molecules, whichthere may be fragments of amino acids and traces of fat seeping with water through cracks in the oceanic crust, some of the microbes also have the ability to accumulate carbon in their cells, while others can extract it from hard molecules called polyaromatic hydrocarbons.
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Although the question of the existence of life in other partsthe discovered geological layer is still open, scientists are optimistic: the discovery of life in the lower regions of the earth's crust could expand our knowledge of the adaptive capabilities of extremophiles, which, perhaps, would play a large role in the search for similar organisms on the icy satellites of the giant planets of the solar system. It is known that the conditions of the subglacial oceans in Europe and Enceladus can be largely similar to the conditions of the oceans on Earth, with the only difference being that the oceans of the blue planet are not covered by a many-kilometer ice shell. If so, extremophiles capable of dwelling even in the most incredible places of our living world can be the key to a clue about the possible habitability of other worlds of the solar system.