Geochemistry

Vented Treasure

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Science  06 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5992, pp. 610
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5992.610-b

A vent's namesake.

CREDIT: SIPA PRESS/NEWSCOM

Mid-ocean ridges—vast mountain ranges on the sea floor where new oceanic crust is generated—contain numerous hydrothermal vents that input heat and a suite of chemical compounds into the ocean from Earth's interior. Here, myriad microorganisms with peculiar metabolisms take advantage of extreme chemical gradients, though humans have sampled only a small minority of such environments. German et al. discovered several new vents in the western Caribbean along the Mid-Cayman Rise—a unique, slow-moving ridge tectonically isolated from major mid-ocean ridges. One site, which the researchers named after deep-sea explorer Jacques Piccard, is the deepest hydrothermal field yet discovered (∼5000 m below sea level). Geochemical sampling by a remotely operated underwater vehicle along a 100-km stretch of the ridge revealed that venting outputs are unexpectedly diverse. Pyrosequencing of cells collected at the venting sites suggested that sulfur-oxidizing bacteria thrive in the chemically reducing plumes. Also included among the abundant species was an exact match to uncultured bacteria previously isolated from the Pacific Ocean in the deepest trench on the sea floor.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107, 10.1073/pnas.1009205107 (2010).

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