This Week in the Deep

New and noteworthy publications in deep-sea science for the week of January 21, 2013.

Geobiology: Did life originate from a global chemical reactor?

Many decades of experimental and theoretical research on the origin of life have yielded important discoveries regarding the chemical and physical conditions under which organic compounds can be synthesized and polymerized. However, such conditions often seem mutually exclusive, because they are rarely encountered in a single environmental setting. As such, no convincing models explain how living cells formed from abiotic constituents. Here, we propose a new approach that considers the origin of life within the global context of the Hadean Earth. We review previous ideas and synthesize them in four central hypotheses: (i) Multiple microenvironments contributed to the building blocks of life, and these niches were not necessarily inhabitable by the first organisms; (ii) Mineral catalysts were the backbone of prebiotic reaction networks that led to modern metabolism; (iii) Multiple local and global transport processes were essential for linking reactions occurring in separate locations; (iv) Global diversity and local selection of reactants and products provided mechanisms for the generation of most of the diverse building blocks necessary for life. We conclude that no single environmental setting can offer enough chemical and physical diversity for life to originate. Instead, any plausible model for the origin of life must acknowledge the geological complexity and diversity of the Hadean Earth. Future research may therefore benefit from identifying further linkages between organic precursors, minerals, and fluids in various environmental contexts.

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This Week in the Deep

New and noteworthy publications in deep-sea science for the week of January 7, 2013.

Deep Sea Research Part 1: Oceanographic Research Papers: Discovery of a new hydrothermal vent based on an underwater, high-resolution geophysical survey

 

A new hydrothermal vent site in the Southern Mariana Trough has been discovered using acoustic and magnetic surveys conducted by the Japan Agency for Marine–Earth Science and Technology’s (JAMSTEC) autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Urashima. The high-resolution magnetic survey, part of near-bottom geophysical mapping around a previously known hydrothermal vent site, the Pika site, during YK09-08 cruise in June-July 2009, found that a clear magnetization low extends ~500 m north from the Pika site. Acoustic signals, suggesting hydrothermal plumes, and 10 m-scale chimney-like topographic highs were detected within this low magnetization zone by a 120 kHz side-scan sonar and a 400 kHz multibeam echo sounder. In order to confirm the seafloor sources of the geophysical signals, seafloor observations were carried out using the deep-sea manned submersible Shinkai 6500 during the YK 10-10 cruise in August 2010. These discovered a new hydrothermal vent site (12°55.30′N, 143°38.89′E; at a depth of 2922 m), which we have named the Urashima site. This hydrothermal vent site covers an area of approximately 300 m x 300 m and consists of black and clear smoker chimneys, brownish-colored shimmering chimneys, and inactive chimneys. All of the fluids sampled from the Urashima and Pika sites have chlorinity greater than local ambient seawater, suggesting subseafloor phase separation or leaching from rocks in the hydrothermal reaction zone. End-member compositions of the Urashima and Pika fluids suggest that fluids from two different sources feed the two sites, even though are located on the same knoll and separated by only ~500 m. We demonstrate that investigations on hydrothermal vent sites located in close proximity to one another can provide important insights into subseafloor hydrothermal fluid flow, and also that, while such hydrothermal sites are difficult to detect by conventional plume survey methods, high-resolution underwater geophysical surveys provide an effective means.

 

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This Week in the Deep

New and noteworthy publications in deep-sea science for the week of December 31st, 2012.

PLoS One: How Deep-Sea Wood Falls Sustain Chemosynthetic Life

Large organic food falls to the deep sea – such as whale carcasses and wood logs – are known to serve as stepping stones for the dispersal of highly adapted chemosynthetic organisms inhabiting hot vents and cold seeps. Here we investigated the biogeochemical and microbiological processes leading to the development of sulfidic niches by deploying wood colonization experiments at a depth of 1690 m in the Eastern Mediterranean for one year. Wood-boring bivalves of the genus Xylophaga played a key role in the degradation of the wood logs, facilitating the development of anoxic zones and anaerobic microbial processes such as sulfate reduction. Fauna and bacteria associated with the wood included types reported from other deep-sea habitats including chemosynthetic ecosystems, confirming the potential role of large organic food falls as biodiversity hot spots and stepping stones for vent and seep communities. Specific bacterial communities developed on and around the wood falls within one year and were distinct from freshly submerged wood and background sediments. These included sulfate-reducing and cellulolytic bacterial taxa, which are likely to play an important role in the utilization of wood by chemosynthetic life and other deep-sea animals

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