National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2003

Fluids from aging ocean crust that support microbial life

Cowen, J.P., S.J. Giovannoni, F. Kenig, H.P. Johnson, D.A. Butterfield, M.S. Rappe, M. Hutnak, and P. Lam

Science, 299, 120–123, doi: 10.1126/science.1075653 (2003)

Little is known about the potential for life in the vast, low-temperature (<100°C) reservoir of fluids within mid-ocean ridge flank and ocean basin crust. Recently, an overpressured 300-meter-deep borehole was fitted with an experimental seal (CORK) delivering crustal fluids to the sea floor for discrete and large-volume sampling and characterization. Results demonstrate that the 65°C fluids from 3.5-million-year-old ocean crust support microbial growth. Ribosomal RNA gene sequence data indicate the presence of diverse Bacteria and Archaea, including gene clones of varying degrees of relatedness to known nitrate reducers (with ammonia production), thermophilic sulfate reducers, and thermophilic fermentative heterotrophs, all consistent with fluid chemistry.

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