Progress in Instrument Development

The Deep Exploration Biosphere Investigative tool (DEBI-t) was developed in 2011 by the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations with support from DCO to detect in situ microbial life in ocean floor boreholes.

DEBI-tThe Deep Exploration Biosphere Investigative tool (DEBI-t) was developed in 2011 by the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI) with support from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) to detect in situ microbial life in ocean floor boreholes. DEBI-t was first deployed on IODP Expedition 336, Mid-Atlantic Microbiology (September 25-November 17, 2011), to the "North Pond" region on the western flanks of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge northeast of Barbados. The new instrument was used to log portions of expedition boreholes, 395A, 1382A, Hole 1383C and the old legacy hole, 385A.

Katrina Edwards, University of Southern California, DEBI-t‚'s principal investigator and Expedition 336 c-chief scientist reported on the tool expedition use in her November 3 blog:

"Today, we are continuing to characterize Hole 1383C by sending logging tools down a wire line to the hole where they can scan the sidewalls of the borehole for various chemical and physical properties.  We are also sending down again our new tool, DEBI-t, which scans for the presence of microbial life (using deep ultraviolet spectroscopy) in-situ.  We are particularly interested in the differences between the newly drilled holes - Hole 1382A and Hole 1383C - and the old legacy hole, 385A.  The reason is that there should be considerable differences between the holes.  Hole 395A was sealed at the seafloor for 14 years before we cracked it open and sent down DEBI-t, almost right away, so there was really good probability of scanning a relatively undisturbed, pristine hole where we could scan for native microbial populations.  The other two holes, in contrast, are freshly drilled and experienced multiple hole-cleaning procedures  circulating mud followed by surface seawater.  If these holes all look the same, we would have to conclude that there is something wrong with our new tool.  Luckily, all early indications tell us there are considerable differences between the holes. Now interpreting these data is the next big challenge."

"This proof-of-concept tool development has far-ranging potential applications well beyond the deep sea.  In fact our lead DEBI-t scientist, Everett Salas, is a NASA scientist who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Why would a NASA scientist be interested in probing for microbial life deep within the ocean crust?  Easy, because in our scientific efforts to search for evidence of life beyond planet Earth, tools need to be developed and tested that are applicable for searching for and identifying signatures uniquely indicative of biomolecules.  This deep UV tool that we use to probe for the presence of intraterrestrial life is exactly the kind of tool that could potentially be used with a Rover to explore for the presence of life beyond Earth."

Expediton reports are available at: http://iodp.tamu.edu/scienceops/expeditions/midatlantic_ridge_microbio.html

Figure: Clayton Furman (Engineer, Schlumberger), Everett Salas (Microbiology Logging Tool Engineer, CalTech, USA) and Louise Anderson (Logging Staff Scientist, IODP-USIO/TAMU) install the DEBI-t. (Credit: William Crawford, IODP/TAMU) [Photo ID: exp336_017]

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