Microbial Planet

Microbial Planet

I’m McKensie Daugherty, your host for on the ocean. Imagine a cold, dark planet with virtually nothing to eat, even for microorganisms. Now imagine that the only places to live on this planet are in the tiny water-logged fissures and cracks in the rocks that make up the planet’s crust, miles below the crushing weight of an ocean. Does this sound like the beginning of a science fiction novel? It turns out that this describes our very own Earth quite well because Earth’s largest habitat is inside the ocean crust, making Earth on average, a cold, dark, planet inhospitable to human or animal life. Ours is a microbial planet, and researchers at Texas A&M University are working to understand who the microbes are that live in this vast habitat of crust below the ocean and what they are doing to survive. While in any one crack or fissure there are very few microbes, maybe a few hundred to a few thousand, in all cracks in all of the crust under all of the oceans, they add up, making it important to know how they process the Earth’s elements with their metabolisms. Because the ocean circulates through the underlying crust the same way ground water circulates on land, the microbes living in the ocean crust likely affect the chemical nature of global seawater. Moreover, what these microbes are doing below the bottom of the sea may affect life on land over vast geological timescales, as they modify the rocks they live in, which are eventually recycled through the ocean ridge system and brought to land through volcanic activity. These microbes may be tiny, but they are many and they have potential to modify our world in ways that we are just beginning to understand. This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links, please go to ocean.tamu.edu and click On the Ocean.

Contributing Professor: Dr. Jason Sylvan

Contributing Graduate Student/Script Author: Emily Whitaker