Joined by experts from China and Russia, the group of scientists undertook the most comprehensive analysis of microbial population in the Mariana trench, and what they found was not expected at all.
Located in the Western Pacific Ocean, the Mariana Treanch rachis a depth of around 11,00 meters, marking one of the deepest spots inside our oceans.
“We know more about Mars than the deepest part of the ocean,” explained professor Xiao-Hua Zhang of the Ocean University in China, who led the study.
Studying the ecosystems of the trench has not been an easy task. In fact, to date, only a few scientific expeditions have ventured out and investigated the organisms inhabiting this remote ecosystem.
One of these expeditions was led by marine explorer and Academy Award-winning film director James Cameron, who designed and built a specialized submersible that would allow him and his team to collect samples in the trench.
“Our research team went down to collect samples of the microbial population at the deepest part of the Mariana Trench – some 11,000 meters down. We studied the samples that were brought back and identified a new group of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria,” revealed Dr. Jonathan Todd, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences.
“Hydrocarbons are organic compounds that are made of only hydrogen and carbon atoms, and they are found in many places, including crude oil and natural gas.”
“So these types of microorganisms essentially eat compounds similar to those in oil and then use it for fuel. Similar microorganisms play a role in degrading oil spills in natural disasters such as BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“We also found that this bacteria is really abundant at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.”
According to a statement by the University of Eastern Anglia, scientists found that the proportion of hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria in the Mariana Trench ecosystem is the highest on Earth.
“We found that hydrocarbons exist as deep as 6,000 meters below the surface of the ocean and probably even deeper. A significant proportion of them probably derived from ocean surface pollution,” revealed Dr. Nikolai Pedentchouk, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences.
“To our surprise, we also identified biologically produced hydrocarbons in the ocean sediment at the bottom of the trench. This suggests that a unique microbial population is producing hydrocarbons in this environment.”
“These hydrocarbons, similar to the compounds that constitute diesel fuel, have been found in algae at the ocean surface but never in microbes at these depths.”