Scientists Discover Massive Ecosystem Beneath Earth's Surface

Earth teeming with strange underground organisms which may be planet's first inhabitants

Earth teeming with strange underground organisms which may be planet's first inhabitants

The scientific team, which includes hundreds of researchers from all over the world, drilled boreholes kilometers below the continents and seafloor to sample microbes.

They found that the mass of life underground would fill up twice the volume of all the world's oceans and is so diverse that it has been dubbed a "subterranean Galapagos", with tiny creatures existing on unusual diets of rock and methane which can live at temperatures up to 121°C. With about 17 billion to 25 billion tons of carbon (15 to 23 billion metric tonnes) under the planet's surface, DCO researchers estimate there is almost 300 to 400 times as much carbon biomass underground (most of it still undiscovered) as there is in all the humans on Earth.

Dr Mitch Sogin, Co-chair of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, US, said: "Exploring the deep subsurface is akin to exploring the Amazon rainforest". Its cells, tiny microscopic spheres, grow and replicate at 121 degrees Celsius (21 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water).

"Our studies of deep biosphere microbes have produced much new knowledge, but also a realization and far greater appreciation of how much we have yet to learn about subsurface life", says Rick Colwell, Oregon State University, USA. We are discovering new types of life all the time. But with an estimated 70 percent of all bacteria and archaea existing below the surface, there's still much we don't know about how this affects us above ground.

In the new research, scientists have quantified the dark matter of the microbial world like they never did before.

Brought up from these ancient coal beds and fed glucose in the lab, researchers have seen some microbes, bacteria and fungi slowly waking up. In a recent fascinating finding, the researchers found that a massive biosphere of life exists deep under Earth's surface.

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The findings have led some experts to question whether life actually began deep beneath the surface, either within the crust, near hydrothermal vents, or in subduction zones, then migrated upwards towards the sun.

"They are not Christmas ornaments, but the tiny balls and tinsel of deep life look like they could decorate a tree as well as Swarovski glass", said Dr Jesse Ausubel, of the Rockefeller University, a founder of the DCO, which is made up of dozens of global researchers.

Most of our planet's microbial life is deep beneath the surface, and it may have played a big part in the evolution of Earth's atmosphere by locking carbon dioxide underground and allowing air for people and animals to breathe.

"There is lots and lots of life on Earth that we did not know about".

"Ten years ago, we knew far less about the physiologies of the bacteria and microbes that dominate the subsurface biosphere", said Lloyd.

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