Surviving on Volcanic Gas

Thriving on Volcanic Gas

Image: Discovery News

Discovery News reports that “Wisps of volcanic gas, rather than photosynthesis, may energize rare microbes eking out an existence on the Martian-like flanks of the tallest volcanoes in South America’s Atacama Desert.

This newly discovered handful of bacteria, fungi and rudimentary organisms called archaea [roughly 80 micrometers, or 10-5 meters in diameter and 200-600 micrometers, or 10-04 meters long] have not been formally identified, but DNA [10-07] analysis has revealed that they are very different from anything else known to science.

‘Genetically, they’re at least 5 percent different than anything else in the DNA database of 2.5 million [10+06] sequences,’ said Ryan Lynch, a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who cultured the Atacama microbes in the lab.

When Lynch and his colleagues searched specifically for chlorophyll or genes known to be involved in photosynthesis, they came up dry.  That’s when they realized that some of these bugs might utilize completely new forms of metabolism.

In a recent report in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences, Lynch and his co-authors suggest that the microbes may extract energy and carbon from wisps of gases such as carbon monoxide and dimethylsulfide that sometimes drift in the air.  The process wouldn’t give the bugs a high-energy yield, Lynch said in a press release, but enough could add up over time to be meaningful.”

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