By: Hunter Cook
Summary: In the year 1676, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, also known as the father of microbiology, was the first person to discover an array of microscopic findings, including bacteria. Ever since van Leeuwenhoek's revolutionary discoveries, the scientific community has been studying lifeforms too small for the naked eye to see. Even though it was almost 350 years ago that we learned of bacterias' existence thanks to the father of microbiology, researchers continue unearthing new information that brings humanity a little closer to unraveling the mystery of life's origin story. Dr. Yuki Morono, a Japanese microbiologist who is also the lead author of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, and Oceanography Professor Steve D'Hondt, of the University of Rhode Island, led a research team towards the South Pacific Gyre during the summer of 2010. The South Pacific Gyre, a region of intersecting ocean currents east of Australia, is considered one of the planet's most uninhabitable areas due to the fact it has next to no nutrients needed for survival; a desert in the ocean. The research team extracted sediments from this previously presumed dead zone and brought the inorganic matter to their laboratory for further study. Three years later, geoscientist Yohey Suzuki from the University of Tokyo found microbes flourishing deep inside volcanic rocks beneath the Pacific Northwest's seafloor during research unrelated to the studies of Dr. Morono and Professor D'Hondt. Professor Suzuki's discovery of bacteria in such a harsh environment supported hypotheses about life on other planets. For example, volcanos on Mars, similar to the ones on Earth, could have sustained extraterrestrial life millions of years ago before solar wind destroyed the planet's atmosphere and magnetic field. It could also mean that other planets with harsh environments may host microscopic life. In 2020, ten years after Dr. Morono and Professor D'Hondt extracted sediments from the South Pacific Gyre (seven years after Professor Suzuki's revolutionary findings), they discovered that the dormant bacteria that had subsided within the inorganic environment for over 100 million years begun growing and multiplying. Dr. Morono concluded that some of Earth's simplest organisms do not obey the laws of time, thanks to this experiment.
Why we should care? Dr. Morono's, Professor D'Hondt's, and Professor Suzuki's studies are vital to understanding organic life because microbes such as bacteria hold the answers to several fundamental scientific questions.
The article regarding the dormant bacteria found in the South Pacific Gyre is fascinating for many reasons: discoveries regarding life on Earth, implications for extraterrestrial life, and inching closer to comprehending the origins of biological life. It was discovered earlier in the 2000s that certain microorganisms can survive in remarkably harsh environments, and these studies were intriguing; however, with this new research conducted by Dr. Morono and Professor D'Hondt, the scientific community can now speculate that certain microbes don't need sufficient nutrients to thrive either. What does this mean for future research: will new forms of nutrition be unearthed, or will a whole new taxonomic kingdom for bacteria that don't need nourishment to survive be found? The study of our universe is a relatively new realm of science, and each discovery made on Earth concerning life brings humanity closer to understanding more about possible extraterrestrial life. Even though the theory of evolution is nearly a proven fact, there is so much that we don't know about why the domain of life is what it is. I believe everything evolved from single-celled organisms, and the more we learn about microorganic life, the closer we are to learning why evolution happened the way it did.
Science in Action.
Dr. Yuki Morono is a Senior Scientist for the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology / Kochi Institute for Core Sample Research.
The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology is conducting the research, and Dr. Yuki Morono is the senior scientist heading these studies on the agency's behalf. He is also the lead author in charge of documenting any findings. In the past ten years, Dr. Morono led the IODP's expedition 329, where they extracted the South Pacific Gyre's sediments. He has also been in charge of incubating and studying the microbes that were once dormant in the previously thought to be uninhabitable sediments. Having spent a decade on the project, Dr. Morono is very relevant in the past, present, and future observations and discoveries regarding the ancient bacteria.