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Illustration of microbes below seafloor.

Mummified Microbes

Scientists have found evidence that microbes thrive deep below the seafloor. They are sustained by chemicals that are produced when seawater percolates down and reacts with rocks found in Earth’s mantle. The reactions, which occur at hot temperatures and pressures, produce hydrogen, methane, and other compounds that supply energy and nutrients to microbes. It's hard to gain direct access to the mantle, but a team led by WHOI scientist Frieder Klein analyzed samples of ancient mantle rocks and found lipids, amino acids, and proteins of mummified microbes that had been preserved and encased in tiny pockets of the rocks. (Illustration by Jack Cook and Eric S. Taylor, WHOI Graphic Services)


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