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Life is found in deepest layer of Earth’s crust

Michael Marshall, New Scientist

It’s crawling with life down there. A remote expedition to the deepest layer of the Earth’s oceanic crust has revealed a new ecosystem living over a kilometre beneath our feet. It is the first time that life has been found in the crust’s deepest layer, and an analysis of the new biosphere suggests life could exist lower still.

To facilitate the task, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme set its sights on the Atlantis Massif. Tectonic activity beneath this submerged mountain in the central Atlantic Ocean has pushed the gabbroic layer within 70 metres of the sea floor, making it easier to reach (see diagram). A team led by Stephen Giovannoni of Oregon State University in Corvallis drilled down to 1391 metres, where temperatures reach 102 °C.

There, they found communities of bacteria that were sparse but widespread. The type of bacteria they found came as a surprise to Giovannoni, who has previously found micro-organisms living in the basalt layer. “We expected to find similar organisms in the deeper layer,” he says. “But actually it was very different.”

One key difference was that archaea were absent in the gabbroic layer. Also, genetic analysis revealed that unlike their upstairs neighbours, many of the gabbroic bugs had evolved to feed off hydrocarbons like methane and benzene. This is similar to the bacteria found in oil reservoirs and contaminated soil, which could mean that the bacteria migrated down from shallower regions rather than evolving inside the crust.

Michael Marshall, New Scientist

The universe is teeming with life everywhere!

I wonder what kind of organisms were found and could they be beneficial to human society today?