Underworld Nematodes Expand Known Biosphere

Four species of the phylum Nematoda were discovered or detected in the deep terrestrial subsurface of South Africa, dramatically expanding the known metazoan biosphere.

Underworld nematodesFour species of the phylum Nematoda—including a new species Halicephalobus mephisto—were discovered or detected in the deep terrestrial subsurface of South Africa, dramatically expanding the known metazoan biosphere [1]. The new species, H. mephisto, “he who loves not the light” in pseudo Greek, was found 1.3 km down in borehole water from the Beatrix gold mine. Two of the three known nematode species were found in the Driefontein gold mine (0.9 km subsurface) and the third known species was detected in DNA extracted from borehole water at the deepest site (3.6 km subsurface) in the Tau Tona gold mine.

In their recent Nature article, the researchers describe the steps they took to determine that the nematodes were indigenous and not recent surface or mining contaminants. Their Carbon-14 data indicate that the fracture water in which the organisms reside is 3,000-12,000-year-old palaeometeoric water. The existence of these nematodes—which tolerate high temperature, reproduce asexually, and preferentially feed upon subsurface bacteria—demonstrates that deep ecosystems are more complex than previously accepted.

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