The Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) is a $47.6M National Science Foundation-funded Science and Technology Center started in 2010 with the mission to explore life beneath the seafloor and make transformative discoveries that advance science, benefit society, and inspire people of all ages and origins.
Video overview by USC Dornsife College Communications
C-DEBI is a partnership between 8 institutions with the University of Southern California (USC) as the lead, and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC), and the University of Rhode Island (URI), as well as the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, California Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.
C-DEBI research focuses on the discovery of the microbial life below the ocean floor in rocks and sediments (the deep biosphere) that make up 70% of our planet’s surface. Specifically, what organisms exist where, how they function, how long they’ve been there, how they might be related to other organisms found in continental areas or in the overlying ocean, and to figure out what their impact has been on the evolution of our planet and life on our planet.
C-DEBI uses specialized technologies to collect and analyze samples from the deep biosphere including sensors, samplers, and platforms, deep-sea submersibles, scientific drilling research ships, and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles).
Our research is focused at 4 major field sites across the world’s oceans from the low-nutrient South Pacific Gyre, the young Juan de Fuca Ridge Flank (off of Washington State), the sedimented North Pond in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, to the hydrothermally-active Dorado Outcrop at the East Pacific Rise (west of Costa Rica).
In addition to the lead investigators at the primary institutions, C-DEBI supports deep biosphere community research at over 40 institutions in nearly 90 projects including about 40 graduate student and postdoctoral research fellowships. C-DEBI research projects have resulted in over 100 peer-reviewed research publications in high-profile journals including Science, Nature and ISME (International Society for Microbial Ecology) Journal with a third of first authorships by graduate students and postdoctorals. This emphasizes the success we have had in our priority to train the next generation of deep subsurface biosphere researchers.
Our outreach to undergraduates focuses on early career students at both 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities and especially seeks to engage minorities and women in ocean and earth sciences. We offer two primary programs during the summer. Global Environmental Microbiology is a 4-week, residential discovery-based research course that integrates field sampling, lab protocols and microbiology with 63 national participants to date, 84% of whom continue to study in STEM disciplines. Community College Research Internship for Scientific Engagement brings 2-year students into research laboratories for 8 weeks at both USC and UCSC with 11 students now transferred to 4-year institutions and one having completed her Bachelor's degree.