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No. 102: Nov-Dec 1995

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From dust unto abyssal mud

We know the Creator made at least one species from dust, but ocean-floor mud has turned out to have more biodiversity. Twenty years ago, biologists put the number of species at about 1 million. Then, they started shaking and gassing rain-forest canopies. The rain of new insect species that fell to the ground made them revise the estimate to 30 million. The latest, long-unappreciated reservoir of undescribed species is mud -- oceanic mud. In particular, we know that the mud in the Rockall Trench off the western coast of Scotland teems with untold species of diminutive nematodes. Of course, nematodes are not as pretty as birds and fish, but they are nevertheless bona fide species of life. Examination of the Rockall mud and that from other seabed sites has convinced the nematode counters that there may be as many as 100 million nematode species on our planet. When other classes of life are added, the figure rises to at least 130 million. (Pearce, Fred; "Rockall Mud Richer than Rainforest," New Scientist, p. 8, September 16, 1995.)

Comments. Lifeless molecules can apparently unite to form an almost infinite array of life forms! The next reservoir of unexplored biodiversity may be the crevicular realm -- all those fluid-filled crevices and channels that extend miles down into the earth's crust. They are full of bacteria and other unrecognized microscopic life forms. As for extraterrestrial habitats, who can even guess?

From Science Frontiers #102 Nov-Dec 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss