Department of Geosciences Seminar Series: Pushing the Limits: Microbial Life at Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents

Posted on 3/15/2008 9:50:52 AM

The Biology and Geosciences departments present a seminar by Dr. Julie Huber of the Marine Biological Laboratory. Her presentation will focus on the communities surrounding deep sea hydrothermal vents which are important in elemental cycling and the evolution of our planet.

Who: Julie Huber of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass.
Date: March 28, 2008, 3:30 p.m.
Location: Weyandt Hall, Room 32, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Contact: For further information regarding this event, please contact the Geosciences Department at 724-357-2379 or by e-mail at

Abstract of Talk

The world’s oceans are teeming with microscopic life forms, encompassing a staggering amount of diversity. Although they are largely invisible to the naked eye, microbial communities of untold diversity dominate nearly every corner of our oceans, from the deepest marine sediments to the sun-drenched coral reefs. Despite their crucial role in elemental cycling and earth’s evolution, the marine microbial world remains vastly undersampled, and our understanding of these microbial communities severely limited.

The deep sea is one of the least explored parts of the microbial world, and until only thirty years ago, scientists believed that, because it was devoid of sunlight and plants, there was no life there. The discovery of thriving animal and microbial communities at the Galapagos spreading ridge in 1977 changed our fundamental perceptions of life on planet Earth. The chemistry of hydrothermal vents creates many habitats for microbial and animal communities, all of which are intimately linked to and dependent on the geochemistry of their environment. These organisms encounter many conditions that we humans consider too extreme—too hot, too toxic, too little oxygen—but microbes seem to find a way and continue to push the limits of life.

An impetus for studying life at deep-sea hydrothermal vents is that life may have originated and evolved near hydrothermal systems and that organisms currently living in these likely analogues of early habitats may still harbor characteristics of early life. In addition, microbes unique to the hydrothermal vents could provide insight into metabolic processes, strategies for growth, and survival of life on solar bodies with a water history, such as Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa. With a sample size of only one, the search for life beyond Earth must begin with life as we know it on Earth. Using examples from research expeditions around the globe, we will explore this extreme life on Earth at deep-sea hydrothermal vents.

For more information on Julie Huber, visit her homepage.