Sea floors host surprise methane-munching microbes

Date: October 14, 2014

Source: Nature

Carbonate rocks near methane seeps in the sea floor are home to thriving ecosystems of microbes that consume that greenhouse gas, suggests research published in Nature Communications1.

Methane seeps, where the gas rises from the sea floor, are surrounded by carbonate rock, which is not just passive sediment but home to a rich methane-eating flora. Deepwater Canyons 2013/NOAA-OER/BOEM/USGS

“This is a niche that has been completely unaccounted for,” says Samantha Joye, a microbial geochemist at the University of Georgia in Athens who was not involved in the study.

Some sea-floor sediments are chock-full of methane-consuming microbes, particularly in layers that also contain sulphate ions diffusing or being pulled into the ocean bottom from overlying waters. These two ingredients help to power the microorganisms’ metabolisms, says Victoria Orphan, a geobiologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and a co-author of the latest study.

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