A&M team discovers life 2,600 feet below Indian Ocean’s seafloor

The JOIDES Resolution research drillship. (Photo by IODP)

A team of scientists – including two Texas A&M University researchers – have uncovered cores that contain life at some of the deepest levels ever found in subseafloor ancient rocks. Their discovery could open new doors for finding life at other remote areas of the word.

Jason Sylvan, assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography, and graduate student Shu Ying Wee, along with a team of international scientists, have had their work published in Nature.

The team examined ocean cores from the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) that were drilled almost 2,600 feet beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean.

They found tiny microbes that are alive and active in the rock cores, and revealed how they survive so deep below the seafloor in an environment with no light, barely any space and very little food.

“They are tiny, around one micrometer,” Sylvan said. “We can’t tell the age, but assume them to be currently extant, so not necessarily old, but in an environment that is extreme and subsurface. We believe this is the first research to show active microbes in this environment and to be able to describe their lifestyles using such a broad array of data streams.”

He said the findings could reveal secrets about how the Earth evolved and how life – no matter how small – can find ways to survive even in the most harsh and difficult of environments.

“This environment and lower oceanic crust is comprised largely of types of material called gabbro and peridotite, and these allow for some chemical reactions that were likely present on early Earth and also on other planets where water and volcanic rocks interact, Sylvan said.

“So this is an exciting discovery that expands the places on our own planet where life has been found, and also tells us what to look for elsewhere in the solar system.”

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