'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
"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
"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.