Environment

Exploring Hot Deep-Sea Vents for Signs of Extreme Life

Microbiology professor Jim Holden, a researcher in the School of Earth and Sustainability, recently received a three-year, $441,219 grant from NASA’s Exobiology Program to study competition between different types of thermophilic, or heat-loving, microbes.    

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Microbiology professor Jim Holden, a researcher in the School of Earth and Sustainability, recently received a three-year, $441,219 grant from NASA’s Exobiology Program to study competition between different types of thermophilic, or heat-loving, microbes that live in deep-sea volcanoes called hydrothermal vents.

The program’s goal is to “understand the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. Research is centered on the origin and early evolution of life, the potential of life to adapt to different environments, and the implications for life elsewhere,” NASA says.

Holden, an expert in high-temperature microbes, adds that the investigation will estimate the population size, composition and impact of different types of thermophilic life in the underwater vents, where there is no oxygen or sunlight. These organisms live at very high temperatures and feed on hydrogen, carbon dioxide, sulfur and iron from the vents.

He explains, “This life is thought to be representative of early life on Earth, and hydrothermal vents are thought to be like habitats on Mars and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where there may be evidence of past or even present microbial life.”

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