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Geophysical Monograph Series

 

Keywords

  • Deep-sea ecology—Congresses
  • Mid-ocean ridges—Congresses

Article

GEOPHYSICAL MONOGRAPH SERIES, VOL. 144, PP. 383-399, 2004

Studying the deep subsurface biosphere: Emerging technologies and applications

S. Craig Cary

Graduate College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware, Pilottown Road, Lewes, Delaware


Barbara J. Campbell

Graduate College of Marine Studies, University of Delaware, Pilottown Road, Lewes, Delaware


Edward F. DeLong

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing, California


Discoveries from seafloor hydrothermal vent environments continue to challenge accepted notions about microbial metabolism and survivability, geochemical and biochemical interactions, and the limits to and origins of life itself. Recent evidence suggests that a significant and extensive subsurface biosphere exists associated with these vent systems that may support bacteria of unique and unknown lineages using as yet uncharacterized metabolic pathways. With restricted access to the subsurface environment and availability of an extremely limited biomass, microbiologists have resorted to powerful molecular approaches to survey, characterize, and even assist in the later cultivation of these novel subsurface bacteria. Advances in molecular phylogenetic techniques (molecular microbial systematics) based on the small subunit rRNA (16S rRNA) and a knowledge of certain diagnostic metabolic genes have provided an alternative and more comprehensive framework to study microbial populations and communities without the necessity of cultivation. These approaches have been used by a number of investigators in deep-sea hydrothermal vents and terrestrial hot springs with astonishing results. In this paper we introduce some of these current and emerging molecular techniques and demonstrate their efficacy in the context of the subsurface biosphere. Simple gene amplification methods coupled with more sophisticated genomic approaches and fine resolution in situ geochemical tools (see Luther et al., this volume) provides a new-found capability to more fully characterize the diversity of metabolic strategies used by these complex subsurface microbial communities. Understanding these unique microbial communities is not only important from the basic biological perspective but has ramifications for possible industrial applications.

Citation: Craig Cary, S., B. J. Campbell, and E. F. DeLong (2004), Studying the deep subsurface biosphere: Emerging technologies and applications, in The Subseafloor Biosphere at Mid-Ocean Ridges, Geophys. Monogr. Ser., vol. 144, edited by W. S. Wilcock et al., pp. 383–399, AGU, Washington, D. C., doi:10.1029/144GM24.

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