National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Banner
Solar System Exploration
News & Events
Where There's Soup, There's Life
Where There's Soup, There's Life
21 Jun 2001
(Source: Geologic Society of America)

http://www.geosociety.org/pubntrst/pr/01-24.htm

News Release
The Geologic Society Of America
GSA Release No. 01-24
Contact: Ann Cairns, Director-Communications
acairns@geosociety.org, 303-447-2020, ext. 1156

But we're talking gourmet soup. That is, gourmet geochemical "primordial soups" in hot springs and hydrothermal springs in the oceans that support novel chemolithotrophic thermophiles. If we can understand these heat-loving little critters, then we may confirm what microbial ecologist Anna-Louise Reysenbach suspects--they were the earliest ancestors of all life.

Early Earth was a hot environment, and it's possible that some of the life that we see today in hot springs in places like Yellowstone National Park and at deep-sea hydrothermal springs along mid-ocean ridges may share some common metabolic features with their early Earth ancestors. So determining what life exists in hot springs today is one of the first steps to define what early life on a hot planet may have been like.

These thermophiles "living in hot springs are microscopic, and are hard to identify just by looking at them under the microscope," explained Reysenbach from Portland State University. She uses biogeochemical, molecular, and microbiological approaches to study the ecology of thermophiles.

"Essentially there are two ways to identify these microbes; either by trying to grow them, or by using molecular techniques that identify an evolutionarily conserved gene, a sort of fingerprint, of the organism. Using a combination of these approaches, we have been able to grow a very prevalent and important member of hydrothermal ecosystems.

"This group of organisms are chemolithoautotrophs, they use inorganic energy and carbon sources, and are the deepest lineage within the universal tree of life," she explained. "Although the trunk and base of the tree of life are much debated, these few pieces of evidence suggest that this group of organisms may be a good proxy for studying early Earth life. Understanding how these organisms fossilize, what remaining biological signatures they may leave behind, how they precipitate minerals etc. will perhaps help us interpret the rock record here on Earth and other planets more effectively."

The important member of this group is the Aquificales, a deeply-rooted lineage that is common in both terrestrial and deep-sea hydrothermal systems. Reysenbach looks forward to receiving the genome of one of the isolates, "Persephonella marina," which will be available in a few months.

"I think it will definitely show what type(s) of carbon fixation pathways this organism has, how it gets some of it's essential elements, N, C, P, etc.," she said. "What I am also very interested in is how different or similar it is to its relative Aquifex. When the genome sequence of Aquifex was released, it rocked the boat a little, since it showed that this organism is a VERY modern organism...and not what some thought would be typical of a 'primitive' -ancestral organism."

Reysenbach will present her research "Gourmet Geochemical "Primordial Soups" at Hydrothermal Vents Support Novel Thermophilic Chemolithotrophs: Implications for the Evolution of Life on Early Earth" on Wednesday, June 27, at the Earth Systems Processes conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London will co-convene the June 24-28 meeting.

CONTACT INFORMATION

During the Earth System Processes meeting, June 25-28, contact the GSA/GSL Newsroom at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre for assistance and to arrange for interviews: +44 (0) 131 519 4134

Ted Nield, GSL Science and Communications Officer
Ann Cairns, GSA Director of Communications

The abstract for this presentation is available at: http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2001ESP/finalprogram/abstract_8352.htm

Post-meeting contact information:

Anna-Louise Reysenbach
Department of Biology
Portland State University
Portland, OR 97201 USA
reysenbacha@pdx.edu

Ted Nield
Geological Society of London
+44 (0) 20 7434 9944
ted.nield@geolsoc.org.uk

Ann Cairns
Geological Society of America
+01 303 447 2020 ext. 1156
acairns@geosociety.org

News Archive Search  Go!
Show  results per page
 
 
Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writer: Autumn Burdick
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> USA.gov
> ExpectMore.gov
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 27 Jun 2001