Mysterious microbes found in Hawaiian lava caves could offer some clues about early life on Earth and life on Mars as well, according to a new study.
The study was published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.
However, in both older lava tubes formed more than 500 years ago and those currently active, there was a broad array of microbial life.
Rebecca Prescott, a researcher at the NASA Johnson Space Center and the University of Hawaii and lead author of the study, said the research breaks ground.
Centuries-old lava caves of Hawaiʻi Island contain thousands of unknown bacterial species, shows a new study published in @FrontMicrobiol.
Read the original study: https://t.co/DNG8S7vWU3, or our news story
— Frontiers (@FrontiersIn) July 25, 2022
“This study points to the possibility that more ancient lineages of bacteria, like the phylum Chloroflexi, may have important ecological ‘jobs,’ or roles,” she said, according to Frontiers Science News.
“The Chloroflexi are an extremely diverse group of bacteria, with lots of different roles found in lots of different environments, but they are not well studied and so we don’t know what they do in these communities. Some scientists call such groups ‘microbial dark matter’ – the unseen or un-studied microorganisms in nature,” Prescott said.
The study poses areas of inquiry for scientists, she said.
“This leads to the question, do extreme environments help create more interactive microbial communities, with microorganisms more dependent on each other?” Prescott said. “And if so, what is it about extreme environments that helps to create this?”
She said the study should shape future research.
“Overall, this study helps to illustrate how important it is to study microbes in co-culture, rather than growing them alone (as isolates),” Prescott said. “In the natural world, microbes do not grow in isolation. Instead, they grow, live and interact with many other microorganisms in a sea of chemical signals from those other microbes. This then can alter their gene expression, affecting what their jobs are in the community.”
The study suggested a connection to possible life on Mars.
Research on life forms in inhospitable locations “will address questions in a variety of fields, including the structure of possible microbial communities on an early Earth and Mars in astrobiology studies, potential use of microbial consortia in biotechnology and bioremediation, and improving our understanding of microbial communities in volcanic or desert soils for enhanced agricultural production,” the study said.
Jeff Parsons put some of the impacts of the study in layman’s language in an Op-Ed for the British publication Metro.
“What’s got the experts so interested in Hawaii’s lava caves is that the conditions there are as close as you might get to those of … Mars or other distant planets,” he wrote. “And if microbes can survive in these 600 – 800-year-old lava tubes, we might just find some on Mars at some stage.”
Hundreds of years ago, the volcanic processes that created Hawaii also formed a network of underground caves
They’re inhospitable to most life but, scientists have found colonies of microbes that possess many secrets
Let’s unlock the mystery https://t.co/BYzLTm8m8z
— Metro (@MetroUK) July 25, 2022
NASA’s Perseverance rover is on Mars now on a mission to “[s]eek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.”
The rover recently captured an image of what appeared to be string on the planet’s surface. The initial conjecture is that it came from the rover’s descent to the panel, according to CNN.
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