Monday, December 17, 2012

sea floor surprises

I used to think that our civilisation's lack of knowledge of the deep sea was just embarrassing - as often summarised in the statement (still true, I think) that we know the far side of the moon in greater detail than the sea floor. However, in the course of research for my latest feature, I realised that it is downright dangerous.

The bottom of the ocean is the boundary between the Earth's crust, which is reduced, thus may contain large amounts of methane, and the oxygen-bearing oceans. Microbes ensure that the methane reaching the boundary gets oxidised and metabolised. If it escaped this process and managed to rise to the atmosphere, a climate disaster would hit us that might be even bigger than the one we're currently producing ourselves.

And yet we have very incomplete knowledge of the chemistry going on in sea floor sediments, as two recent, completely unexpected discoveries have revealed - one demonstrating novel redox biochemistry with S(0) intermediates, the other electron transport through bacterial filaments.

My feature is out today in Current Biology:

Surprises from the sea floor

Current Biology, Volume 22, Issue 24, R1023-R1025, 18 December 2012 doi:10.1016/j.cub.2012.11.053

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Bacterial filaments that act as conducting wires in sea floor sediments (Photo: Nils Risgaard-Petersen).

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