DCO Project Summary

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Project Title
Development of Dark Energy Biosphere Investigation Tool (DEBI-T)
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A Dark Energy Biosphere Investigation Tool (DEBI-T) using deep UV native fluorescence to identify microbes and organics on solid surfaces was developed in 2011 with DCO support to rapidly characterize the distribution of microbes in subsurface matrices in subseafloor boreholes. DEBI-T was first deployed on the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program’s “Mid-Atlantic Microbiology” expedition (IODP Expedition 336) in September - November 2011. During the two-month-long expedition, IODP’s scientific drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution visited three sites in the vicinity of “North Pond” on the western flanks of the Atlantic Ocean’s Mid-Ocean Ridge. On December 10, 2011, Principal Investigator Katrina Edwards reported to the DCO: “DEBI-t not only works but is spectacular. High-risk/reward science at work.”

Co-Chief Scientist Katrina Edward’s IODP Expedition 336 blog, November 3, 2011: “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. 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.”

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