Daily Updates: March
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Daily Updates: April 2001
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
Daily Updates: May 2001
    1 2 3 4 5

View Today's Slideshow!

partlycloudy weather
Partly Cloudy
86°F (30°C)
Latitude: 25 deg 19.2’S
Longitude: 70 deg 02.4’E
Wind Direction: NE
Wind Speed: 18 Knots
Sea State 4
Swell(s) Height: 10-12 Foot
Sea Temperature: 79°F (26.1°C)
Barometric Pressure: 1011.2 MB Visibility: 18+ Nautical Miles

This polychaete worm is one of the largest we have seen crawling at the base of the black smoker chimneys

what's to eat today?

Daily Update: Hydrothermal vent microbes
April 8, 2001
By Amy Nevala

The curious-looking crabs, mussels and shrimp now on board Knorr are under a lot of scrutiny, and so are another group of organisms, called microbes.

Microbes, better known as bacteria, make life possible at hydrothermal vents.

Without microbes, there would be no food for shrimp. No shrimp means no food for anemones, crabs and fish. And so it goes up the food chain.

Several days ago, microbiologist Anna-Louise Reysenbach ground up a chunk of the sulfide rock we collected at the black smoker chimneys. Placing the grounds in test tubes, she cooked them in a small oven for 24 hours to see if anything would grow.

When she put the cooked sample under a microscope, she saw that it was crowded with microbial creatures she affectionately calls “bugs.” In fact, they are much smaller than a bug - to them a mosquito eye would be gigantic.

Anna-Louise specializes in microbes. The research she and fellow microbiologist Dorothee Gotz do here in the Indian Ocean will help them understand a specific type of microbe called a thermophile.

Thermophiles love heat, and grow best when the temperature hovers between 113° and 234°F (45° and 113° C).

Microbiologists study thermophiles living at hot springs in places like Yellowstone National Park as well as at hydrothermal vents. They have identified hundreds of types. In the Indian Ocean, Anna-Louise says she thinks she has already seen six to eight new varieties.

While we don’t know the exact number of microbes, we do know this: “There are many, many more species of microbes at the hydrothermal vents than there are animals, like shrimp,” said Anna-Louise.

Why are a bunch of odd-shaped little creatures so important? Thermophiles and other microbes deserve our respect because they are our elders. They have lived here 3.5 billion years longer than all other life forms. They were here long before dinosaurs.

Today they are critical in our lives. Though some types of microbes cause disease, others are used for medical research that could make us healthier. For example, the enzymes (or proteins) taken from hydrothermal vent microbes are now used in the biotechnology industry for genetic studies.

At the black smoker chimneys we located in the Indian Ocean, the microbes cling to minerals within the sulfide rock. This rock is porous like a sponge, so hot water from the vents shoots through it, delivering food to the microbes. It’s not a complicated diet: hydrogen for energy, carbon for carbohydrates, plus a pinch of oxygen, sulfate, nitrate or iron.

“It’s like they live in a continual Jacuzzi,” said Anna-Louise, “and they just sit there eating their microbial gourmet dinner from the hot hydrothermal fluid.”


[Back to top]