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Scientists find microbes that don't breathe

A community of microbes that don't breathe is seen lit up while attached to a rock particle. (Photo courtesy of Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology)

Microbes that seem able to survive without basic functions such as breathing have been found deep in the ground in California, according to a research team consisting of Japanese scientists.

    The team, which consists of members such as Shino Suzuki of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC)'s Kochi Core Center, published its findings in the British science journal, the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME).

    It is thought that the discovery could provide useful clues about life-forms during the very early days of planet Earth, as well as the absolute limits needed for certain living creatures to survive.

    In California, there is a spring called The Cedars which consists of strong alkali water that gushes up from a depth of 1.2 kilometers, with minerals from the Earth's mantle. The spring lacks the vital components needed for organisms to survive, such as oxygen, carbon and phosphorus. The conditions inside The Cedars are thought to resemble those at the very beginning of Earth, about 4 billion years ago.

    Suzuki and her team analyzed the genomes of microbes living in the spring and noticed that 70 percent of 27 types of microbes there do not possess the genes required for basic survival such as those for breathing and for intracellular energy metabolism. It is thought that these microbes attach themselves to rocks, and gain energy from minerals -- but it is not exactly known how they manage to survive.

    At the very beginning of planet Earth, it is known that there was hardly any oxygen, and it is thought that the microbes found in The Cedars might be the same as those in existence when the Earth was in its initial period.

    Suzuki says, "I was surprised to discover that there are microbes capable of living in extraordinary and extreme conditions. This could prove to be a useful key that could possibly help us learn more about extraterrestrial life-forms."

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