Hydrocarbon cycling at the bottom of the Mariana Trench
April 24, 2019 11:44: am | by Sarah Clarke
Researchers in China and the UK, including Jonathan Todd and David Lea-Smith at the UEA School of Biological Sciences, and Nikolai Pedentchouk at the UEA School of Environmental Sciences, have published a paper in the journal Microbiome, investigating the microbial populations at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. This trench reaches a depth of 11,000 metres, the lowest known point in the ocean, and organisms living in this environment have to survive water pressure equal to 1,091 kilograms pressed against a fingernail. This study examined the genetic potential of the microbial population at the bottom of the trench. Approximately a quarter of bacteria had the potential to degrade hydrocarbons, the highest proportion in any environment on Earth. Some of these hydrocarbons may be derived from ocean surface pollution but biological alkane production was also observed from an unknown source. These results reveal that hydrocarbon-degrading microorganisms are present in great abundance in the deepest seawater on Earth and shed new light on potential biological processes in this extreme environment.