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No. 57: May-Jun 1988

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Subterranean life! (part 3)

We almost forgot this recent tidbit from Science News that mentions microscopic life forms:

"In recent years, scientists have found bacteria, as far down as 1,150 feet, in wells that penetrate deeply buried aquifers -- porous layers of rock that hold underground water. Such finds have forced hydrologists to question their traditional belief that deep aquifers were devoid of life. But it was not clear whether these bacteria were native residents of the aquifers or just contaminants from the world above, living solely within the wells. Moreover, no one had established how the bacteria were affecting the environment, if at all."

Experiments have now shown that these subterranean bacteria are indigenous and are important to groundwater chem istry. The bacteria feed on organic molecules and display a curious propensity for metabolizing the carbon-13 isotope rather than carbon-12. Thus, carbon dissolved in some deep aquifer water is enriched in carbon-13 compared to surface water. None of the bacteria found so far seems dangerous to humans. (Monastersky, R.; "Bacteria Alive and Thriving at Depth," Science News, 133: 149, 1988.)

Comment. Subterranean bacteria may be associated with the creation of oil and natural gas.

From Science Frontiers #57, MAY-JUN 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss