Once considered a barren plain dotted with hydrothermal vents, the seafloor's rocky regions appear to be teeming with microbial life, say scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Mass., University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, and other institutions.
On the deep ocean floor, microbial life is feeding on fresh volcanic rock and flourishing with greater abundance than even the most optimistic scientists thought possible. Scientists have found bacteria growing on oceanic crust in concentrations that are thousands- to ten-thousand times (three to four orders of magnitude) greater than what is found in the overlying waters.
Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the University of Southern California (USC), and four other institutions collected and examined rock and water samples from the East Pacific Rise, the Nankai Trough, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Sargasso Sea, and the seafloor near Hawaii. They used various molecular and genetic analysis tools (such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction and clone libraries) to quantify the abundance, richness, and diversity of communities of bacteria living on young ocean crust.