A new study has found that life deep within the Earth appears to have a comparable genetic diversity to all of the life found above the surface. The scientists presented their findings before the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington D.C. The final report is due to be published in October 2019.
The 10-year Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) project studied a habitat nearly twice the size of the oceans. The project involved taking sediment samples at hundreds of sites around the world and analyzing the microbes extracted. The samples were taken from deep inside the seafloor and from mines and boreholes up to three miles underground. The DCO is an international collaboration of multidisciplinary scientists, featuring over 1,000 scientists working in 52 countries.
There appears to be millions of distinct types of bacteria and archaea present in this hidden world. The mysterious creatures appear to be thriving despite extreme temperatures, very high pressures, and a lack of nutrition sources. Some of these lifeforms have been found to have incredibly slow and long life cycles, despite the harshness of their environment.
Studying the life present in these extreme conditions could help researchers understand the origins of life on Earth and how life may have occurred on other planets. Scientists have found life pretty much wherever there is even just a tiny amount of water. Every year, the number of new species found in these extreme environments increases considerably.
There is still much to be learned about these environments. Scientists are still studying whether life started deep in the Earth or on the surface before migrating downwards. They also want to discover how life is spreading through the rocks that make up the earth’s crust. The scientists involved in the study say their initiative has only scratched the surface of the spectrum of underground life.