Deep Carbon Observatory

Mephisto worm

Mephisto worm

Over the five years support from the Deep Carbon Observatory has been utilized towards contributing to a Census of Deep Life and to the development of metatranscriptomics and metaproteomics in our research group. As a results we have made several startling discoveries, including 1) the recognition of wide spread geographic mobility of “core” subsurface clades; 2) complex trophic levels in chemolithoautotrophic communities support by CH4 produced by a very tiny fraction of the total community; 3) the presence of a wide variety of anaerobic CH4 oxidizers in the terrestrial subsurface; and 4) high levels of microbial activity and C, N and S cycling as revealed by metatranscriptomic and metaproteomic activity.  Great progress has been made in characterizing the abundance and diversity of the deep subsurface biosphere in South Africa, but many mysteries remain to be answered when it comes to the in situ processes of growth, biogeochemical cycling, evolution and death of subsurface microorganisms.   Currently we are exploring new approaches for retrieving geochemical, isotopic, metagenomic, transcriptomic, the application of metabolomics to the deep subsurface biosphere where cell concentrations are low.   We hope to develop an underground laboratory in a very deep South African mine to explore the effects of seismic activity on H2 production and the microbial activity of chemolithoautotrophs.