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Monday, 18 March 2013

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'Underground Galapagos' excites scientists

US: Diverse underground ecosystems buried deep beneath the Earth's crust may offer clues to the origins of life on Earth, several recent studies have revealed.

Whether it is tiny worms found wriggling in the depths of a South African mine or micro-organisms discovered six kilometers (3.7 miles) under the surface in China, subterranean life forms are found everywhere.

"We are making incredible discoveries about the nature and distribution of deep microbial life," said Robert Hazen, executive director of the Carnegie Institution's Deep Carbon Observatory geophysical laboratory.

"If you are near the surface from a few centimeters to many kilometers, there is microbial life anywhere you go.

"You drill deep holes, you bring up the core and there are microbes living in the rocks." The Deep Carbon Observatory was set up to analyze the amounts, sources and movement of carbon within Earth.

Scientists say microbes found in the oceanic crust and sediment layers lying below them could play an important role in microbial diversity by inserting themselves into the genome of micro-organisms.

"It's an intriguing part of evolution," said John Baross, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. "The deep sub-surface may have acted as a natural laboratory for the origin of life in which multiple experiments could have been carried out in tandem," he said.

AFP

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