Deep Life in the Slow, Slow Lane

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Science  10 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5570, pp. 1056-1058
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5570.1056

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Microbial life may seem infinitely adaptable and durable, but microbiologists and geologists probing the most voluminous part of the biosphere--the deep subsurface--are finding that organisms living at great depths mostly seem to be living indirectly off the energy of sunlight rather than using local, less tempting sources of energy, such as the rock itself. Even when feeding off organic matter that trickles down from plant life at the surface, deep microbes are usually starved into apparent dormancy; when cut off from photosynthetic fuel supplies, they can simply disappear.