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These bacteria convert the chemicals that shoot out of the hydrothermal vents into food for the worm.
Worldwide at the edges of tectonic plates Extremely deep, low energy, low nutrient waters in tectonically active areas Chemosynthetic bacteria, Giant Tube Worms, Deep-sea Mussels, Yeti Crabs Potential source of bio-products like medicines and other natural compounds Deep hydrothermal vents are like hot springs on the sea floor where mineral-rich, hot water flows into the otherwise cold, deep sea.
Minerals escaping from these vents usually include hydrogen sulfide or some other sulfur compound.
The deep-sea environment where these vents occur is completely dark, and photosynthesis (=the conversion of carbon dioxide into sugar using sunlight) is impossible.
The discovery of chemosynthetic ecosystems at deep-sea hydrothermal vents in 1977 changed our view of biology.
Chemosynthetic bacteria and archaea form the foundation of vent ecosystems by exploiting the chemical disequilibrium between reducing hydrothermal fluids and oxidizing seawater, harnessing this energy to fix inorganic carbon into biomass.
As these bacteria multiply, they form thick mats on which animals can graze.
In some cases, they form symbiotic relationships with animals, (e.g., giant tube worms) and live in the animals’ tissues, creating energy in return for receiving protection from predators.
This is Part 3 of a six-part series telling the story of humankind’s efforts to understand the origins of life by looking for it in extreme environments where life thrives without relying on the sun as an energy source.
It follows an oceanographic expedition to the Mid-Cayman Rise led by Chris German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and NASA’s efforts to plan a future mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa.