Research Points to Geochemical Source of Life Beneath Ocean Floor

Here’s a bit of a puzzle that I thought I would bring up. I came across an article that discusses findings of research conducted by scientists on board the JOIDES Resolution, a research ship that collects core samples of rocks from the oceanic crust beneath the ocean floor.

Dr. Mark A. Lever of Center for Geomicrobiology at Aarhus University, Denmark reports on finding life in the porous basalt that makes up much the oceanic crust that is fundamentally different from life formed through photosynthesis. He states,

“We collected rock samples 55 kilometres from the nearest outcrop where seawater is entering the basalt. Here the water in the basaltic veins has a chemical composition that differs fundamentally from seawater, for instance, it is devoid of oxygen produced by photosynthesis. The microorganisms we found are native to basalt . . .

“It all began when I extracted DNA from the rock samples we had brought up. To my great surprise, I identified genes that are found in methane-producing microorganisms. We subsequently analysed the chemical signatures in the rock material, and our work with carbon isotopes provided clear evidence that the organic material did not derive from dead plankton introduced by seawater, but was formed within the oceanic crust.”

I’m not entirely sure what the ramifications of a finding like this are, but it seems to be evidence that there may be much more to life on earth than is normally supposed. It seems to tie in with the school of thought that suggests that petroleum may be abiotic in nature — somehow formed from deep within the earth, rather than being formed by decomposed and transformed organic matter. This report suggests a geochemical source of life and energy, one that is not normally discussed in the scientific realm.

To me, this all goes to show that there is so much yet to be discovered about life, matter, energy — and of course that is the focus of this site, and something that has been discussed here many times.

The complete article from EurekAlert can be read here. A full report has been published in the March 15th issue of the journal Science. An abstract can be found here.(Subscription is required for full text)