Exploration of the microbiology in igneous, ‘hard rock’ oceanic crust represents a major scientific frontier. The igneous crust harbours the largest aquifer system on Earth, most of which is hydrologically active, resulting in a substantial exchange of fluids, chemicals and microorganisms between oceanic basins and crustal reservoirs. Study of the deep-subsurface biosphere in the igneous crust is technically challenging. However, technologies have improved over the past decade, providing exciting new opportunities for the study of deep-seated marine life, including in situ and cross-disciplinary experimentation in microbiology, geochemistry and hydrogeology. In this Progress article, we describe the recent advances, available technology and remaining challenges in the study of the marine intraterrestrial microbial life that is harboured in igneous oceanic crust.