Biology on the Thompson

Photo showing red and orange mat atop of a bridge held up by pillars.

Photo showing red and orange mat atop of a bridge held up by pillars.

One of the groups on the ship is interesting in the microbiology associated with the hydrothermal vents in the area. Biology on land and in surface waters get their energy from the sun and since there is no sunlight that reaches the bottom of the ocean, the microbes at Axial have evolved to thrive on different energy sources. These sources include rock, and gas combinations like hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. This research group is studying microbes living near vents with low hydrogen values. The high temperature loving microbes that live at the vents “eat” hydrogen and carbon dioxide to produce methane. These microbes are called methanogens, since they produce methane, and the group is trying to help understand how these microbes live near the vents. One possibility is that there could be other microbes in the vents that create hydrogen allowing the methanogens to live compatibly at the same vents with one creating the hydrogen and the other utilizing it. Another microbe they are studying “eats” rocks and produces magnetite (a magnetic mineral), it is pretty awesome!


Taking a syringe sample of red mat.

Taking a syringe sample of red mat.

In a previous blog post a project involving searching for bacteria that can help develop new antibiotics was mentioned. This involves searching for blue and red bacterial mats, taking syringe samples of them, culturing them, and extracting their DNA. Studying bacteria near hydrothermal vents for medical purposes has not really been done, so this is new and exciting research taking place. The goal is to extract chemicals of the bacteria and expose them to several types of cancer, E. coli, cholera, and Staph infection to see if the bacteria stops the growth of the disease. Searching for the red mat on the seafloor was difficult at first, but worth the wait. The Jason crew was given a latitude/longitude coordinate from a previous group who saw the red mat about a month ago. Upon arriving at the location there was no red mat in sight, so Jason drove around for about an hour before finding a small section with bright red mat. A sample was taken, and Jason continued to explore the area when all of a sudden there was an impressive scene of basalt pillars and bridges covered in bright red mat!

 There are innovative and interesting science advances that are happening right now aboard the ship and it is exciting to be a part of it!

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