On December 12, 2011, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation approved the funding for the $1.5 million Deep Life (DL) Directorate proposal entitled "Deep Life I: Microbial Carbon Transformations in Rock-Hosted Deep Subsurface Habitats.” The proposal's overarching goal is to constrain the pathways and controlling factors for microbially-mediated carbon cycling in subsurface ecosystems fueled by water-rock reactions that generate H2 and hydrocarbons.
Pores and fractures in deep, crystalline rock represent substantial volumes of potential habitat yet the extent of rock-inhabiting microbiota is almost entirely unconstrained. This project will elucidate microbial processing of carbon compounds in environments characterized by low inputs of photosynthetic organic carbon and conditions favoring H2 and abiogenic hydrocarbon production through complementary field and laboratory studies targeting key types of rock-hosted subsurface ecosystems.
Genome-enabled studies of microbial carbon transformations will be initiated in three distinct types of habitats, including; 1) the deepest submarine hydrothermal vents known to date, 2) a terrestrial subsurface site of active serpentinization located in uplifted seafloor, and 3) deep fracture waters from Precambrian shield environments. Complementary laboratory studies will be aimed at obtaining representative organisms from these environments and quantifying their impacts upon carbon biogeochemistry at in situ pressures and temperatures. In addition to providing critical baseline data about the deep biosphere, these studies will contribute to technological advances for the study of subsurface ecosystems.
Matt Schrenk (East Carolina University, USA) and Isabelle Daniel (Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1, France), are the co-PIs on the proposal.