Bacteria that do not need food to live

Thu 24 May 2012

Bacteria found on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean don't really need food to survive, scientists say. 

The hardy microbes, discovered when researchers drilled into a layer of soft red clay at the bottom of the Pacific Gyre, may have the world's slowest metabolism, with barely enough oxygen and nutrients needed to keep them alive. Believed to have remained untouched for almost 86 million years — well before dinosaurs went extinct — the microbes consume oxygen in quantities which are too small to be measured, the researchers said.

We normally cannot see what rate they are working at. It's so slow for us, it looked like suspended animation

For their study, published in the journal Science, Dr Roy and his colleagues measured the oxygen concentration in layers of sediment gathered from the sea bottom in the North Pacific Gyre, off Hawaii, 100 feet below the surface.

They calculated how much oxygen should have diffused into each layer of the sediment. Any missing oxygen was likely to have been consumed by the microbes, Dr Roy said.

The deepest microbes that the researchers observed used just 0.001 femtomoles of oxygen per day; to put it another way, it would take 10 years for a microbe to consume the amount that a human inhales in a single breath. The deep-sea microbes still largely remain a mystery to scientists as they are so slow-moving they are difficult to study.

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