Discovery of microbes under ocean floor suggests life could thrive in ‘extreme environments’ like Mars

paysage sous marin antarctique
Credit: NSF/USAP/Steve Clabuesch

When scientists find microbial life thriving in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, it gives them hope that they may be able to find life on other planets.

Now, researchers have discovered billions of bacteria living in tiny cracks in volcanic rocks beneath the ocean floor, more than nine miles below the surface of the ocean and an additional 300 feet below the ocean floor, according to a new study published [April 2].

And they believe that similar tiny, clay-filled cracks in rocks on Mars or below its surface could be a similar hub for life.

[T]hey estimate that 10 billion bacterial cells live per cubic centimeter in these communities. (Bacteria known to live in mud along the seafloor pales in comparison, at 100 cells per cubic centimeter.) The researchers believe the iron content in the clay found deep below the ocean floor supports the growth of such large bacterial communities.

Related article:  Was our brain growth kick-started by ancestors scavenging bone marrow from animal carcasses?

“I thought it was a dream, seeing such rich microbial life in rocks,” [researcher Yohey] Suzuki said, “I am now almost over-expecting that I can find life on Mars. If not, it must be that life relies on some other process that Mars does not have, like plate tectonics.”

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