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Microbial Life


Cell-sized Thermometers

Cell-sized Thermometers

Climate shifts are a repeating feature in Earth’s history, but humans have added so much greenhouse gas (especially carbon dioxide)…

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Little Things Matter A Lot

Little Things Matter A Lot

One group of bacteria—the cyanobacteria—has completely transformed Earth’s environment through their long history. Three billion years ago, ancestors of cyanobacteria infused Earth’s ancient atmosphere with the byproduct of their photosynthesis—oxygen—changing the chemistry of the planet and setting the stage for entirely new oxygen-breathing life forms to evolve. Without the cyanobacteria, the life we see around us, including humans, simply wouldn’t be here.

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The Deeps of Time in the Depths of the Ocean

The Deeps of Time in the Depths of the Ocean

Wherever we have looked in the oceans, we have found previously unknown microorganisms. We have often found them living in conditions once thought to be incompatible with life, using unfamiliar physiologic and metabolic adaptations. These discoveries have radically changed our thinking about where and how life may have originated and evolved on this planet, and where it might exist on others.

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New Instrument Sheds Light on Bioluminescence

New Instrument Sheds Light on Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence is ubiquitous in the oceans, and especially prevalent in coastal regions where nutrients are abundant and life thrives. Yet scientists have little basic understanding of how bioluminescence is influenced by water temperatures, depths, seasons, geographic locations, even different times of day.

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Revealing the Ocean’s Invisible Abundance

Revealing the Ocean's Invisible Abundance

Finding minuscule life forms in a seemingly infinite ocean isn’t trivial. But in recent years, oceanographers have been developing new techniques and instruments to identify and count marine microorganisms. Year by year, we are learning more and more about them and discovering that they are even more numerous, varied, and important than we previously thought.

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Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?

Is Life Thriving Deep Beneath the Seafloor?

In 1991, scientists aboard the submersible Alvin were in the right spot at the right time to witness something extraordinary. They had sailed into the aftermath of a very recent volcanic eruption on the seafloor and found themselves in a virtual blizzard. They were densely surrounded by flocs of white debris, composed of sulfur and microbes, which drifted more than 30 meters above the ocean bottom. The seafloor was coated with a 10-centimeter-thick layer of the same white material. This vast volume of microbes did not come from the ocean. The eruption had flushed it out from beneath the seafloor.

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