Searching for life in the deep shale

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Science  27 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6191, pp. 1470-1471
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6191.1470

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For energy developers, the geological formation known as the Marcellus Shale represents a rich new source of natural gas. For environmental engineer Paula Mouser and geochemist Shikha Sharma, it represents a potentially rich source of new microbes. The two researchers are part of a pioneering effort to explore what is living in the deep layers of rock—and how the gas drilling boom might affect long-isolated ecosystems. "Next to nothing is known about the biodiversity of shale deposits," says Simon Malcomber of the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., which is funding the work. And scientists aren't the only ones interested in filling that gap; drilling companies also want to know about deep-dwelling microbes, which can corrode equipment, clog pipes, and even produce contaminants that lower the value of natural gas.