Results have implications for life on Mars

Microbes in sediment below the seafloor are sustained primarily by chemicals created by the natural irradiation of water molecules, report U.S. National Science Foundation-funded researchers at the University of Rhode Island and their collaborators. The team discovered that the creation of these chemicals is amplified by minerals in marine sediment. In contrast to the view that life in sediment is fueled by products of photosynthesis, an ecosystem fueled by irradiation of water begins just meters below the seafloor in much of the open ocean. This radiation-fueled world is one of Earth’s largest habitats. The results are published in the journal Nature Communications.

“This work provides an important new perspective on the availability of resources that subsurface microbial communities can use to sustain themselves,” said Justine Sauvage, the study’s lead author. “It is fundamental to understanding life on Earth and the habitability of other planetary bodies, such as Mars.”