The Beatrix Au Mine: Unearthing "Worms from Hell"

Worm headshot

Tullis Onstott's research team, along with Gaetan Borgonie of the University of Ghent in Belgium, recently made a startling discovery: microscopic roundworms known as nematodes living nearly two-and-a-half miles beneath the Earth's surface in Beatrix Au mine, in the Free State Province of South Africa. Now known as "worms from hell" or simply "devil worm," these field expedition videos illustrate how difficult it is to extract specimens for research at depths of 1.3 kilometers. The videos were taken specifically at the site of the extracted worm's location led by mine geologist, Carl Rose.

Video 7 is from the January 2011 Beatrix 326 expedition, home of H. mephisto. Specimens were taken during the Deep Carbon Observatory. Erik Wommack, from the Univ. of Delaware, is filtering for viruses. Roland Purtschert, from Univ. of Bern, is collecting noble gas samples for dating water and Elizaveta Bonch-Osmolovskaya, from the Winogradsky Institute in Moscow, is collecting bacterial samples for isolation experiments.

Video 8 shows Tom Kieft from New Mexico Tech attaching "the crab." A bake-able, sterile, stainless steel manifold built by our Geosciences' senior tech support manager, George Rose. Videos 9 and 10 show water from the borehole flowing through filters into huge columns. The videos feature Mike Pullin and Sarah Hendrickson of New Mexico Tech pumping water through 60 liter resin columns to capture the dissolved organic carbon for analysis. Video 11 shows the "Lobster" filtering device for capturing nematodes.

This expedition extracted deep fracture water that will tell of what bacteria are eating and expelling. It is the "devil worm" that eats the bacteria creating a food chain. The goal of this trip was to obtain samples of bacteria DNA and lipids, as well as, dissolved organic and inorganic carbon for 14C dating. Obtaining a sample of DNA from the "devil worm" for 14C dating was an added plus to the trip.


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Videos courtesy of Gaetan Borgonie, University of Ghent

Video 7: The discovery of H. mephisto, better known as the "devil worm" in the Beatrix Au mine

Video 8: Unearthing "worms from hell" in the Beatrix Au mine

Video 9: Mike Pullin and Sarah Hendrickson pumping water in the Beatrix Au mine

Video 10: Mike Pullin and Sarah Hendrickson continue pumping water in the Beatrix Au mine

Video 11: The "lobster" filtering device for capturing nematodes in the Beatrix Au mine