Barely living ‘zombie’ bacteria and other forms of life constitute an immense amount of carbon deep within Earth’s subsurface — 245 to 385 times greater than the carbon mass of all humans on the surface, according to Deep Carbon Observatory scientists nearing the end of a 10-year international collaboration to reveal Earth’s innermost secrets.
Deep beneath our feet, scientists have recently discovered a massive ‘community’ of ‘zombie’ lifeforms, which are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
In fact, we could almost say they are alien.
Some of these organisms have the ability to live for millions of years and don’t ever bother reproducing. Their sole mission is to survive.
Scientists from the Deep Carbon Observatory, based at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, have come across microorganisms living beneath Earth’s surface that have a total ‘carbon mass’ of 15 to 23 billion tonnes.
Surprisingly, this is hundreds of times the amount of carbon contained in the bodies of all humans on Earth.
The discovery was made after more than ten years of studies.
“Ten years ago, we knew far less about the physiologies of the bacteria and microbes that dominate the subsurface biosphere,” explained Karen Lloyd, a microbiology professor who led the study.
“Today, we know that, in many places, they invest most of their energy into simply maintaining their existence and little into growth, which is a fascinating way to live.”
Scientists discovered that as much as seventy percent of bacteria on Earth survive beneath the surface.
Some of these organisms have the ability to turn carbon into rock, which means they could have an active role in tackling growing climate change issues.
The study also tells us a lot about what we can expect to find on planets like Mars.
If bacteria on Earth can survive several kilometers beneath the surface, is it possible that we can expect to find the same thing on Mars?
Scientists say that this new study can help determine types of extraterrestrial environments that could support life.
“For now, we can only marvel at the nature of the metabolisms that allow life to survive under the extremely impoverished and forbidding conditions for life in deep Earth,” says Rick Colwell from Oregon State University.