Discovery of Deepest Microbial Life on Earth
The crescent-shaped Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific, near Guam (a US island territory) has the deepest points on Earth. The deep vents bubble up active mud volcanoes, carbon dioxide, and sulfur. The deepest point in Mariana Trench is called ‘Challenger Deep’ (36,070 feet deep). If Mount Everest which stands at 29,026 feet tall is set inside the trench, there would still be 7,044 feet of ocean water above it. The trench was first discovered in 1875 by HMS Challenger used that era’s state-of-the-art sounding equipment. By 1960, a manned submersible, belonging to US Navy reached the depth. In 1995, the Japanese sent down an unmanned submarine, while in 2009, US sent a remotely operated vehicle. In 2012, film-maker and deep Sea Explorer James Cameron descended into ‘Challenger Deep’ and reached 35,756 feet. The length of Mariana Trench (1,580 miles) is said to be five times the length of Grand Canyon, although its width is so narrow at 43 miles.
The water pressure on trench’s floor is more than 8 tons per square inch, which is more than 1,000 times the pressure at sea level. From 2012, scientific expeditions intimated at astoundingly diverse range of life, living in the complete darkness and extreme pressure. Since even the dead plankton must sink down thousands of feet to reach trench’s deepest point, the microbial organisms mostly rely on chemicals. While the researches suggested life could sustain at deepest points of earth, a new study published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ has stated that the team analyzing various rock samples (pulled between six and 12 miles below the Mariana Trench) has found traces of organic materials. The microorganisms are brought alongside mud volcanoes, which are kept in lab within special canisters, designed to created conditions of the deep ocean (with all its crushing pressure and coldness).
The researchers have confided that the origin of organic matter isn’t very clear, yet it shows molecular signatures that could be produced by deep microbial life. Some of the organic traces found were said to have complex chemical structures. Considering the difficulty of finding organic samples from the deep earth, ample amount of research is necessary to the Goldilocks environment contributing to the sustainment of microbes (in the absence of photosynthesis). Scientists have been trying to explore the possibility of alien life in Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. But these new discoveries of microbial life prove how many unknowns are still hidden on Earth. Science is always about raising questions that we didn’t know existed before. The queries on the hostile habitats on Earth may shed more light on dark, deep-sea denizens, and perhaps on primordial life.