M2015Strictly speaking, I think microscopic animals that use methane instead of oxygen to support life are not classed as ‘natural phenomena’ but just as ‘amazing nature‘.

The first chemophiles (lovers of chemicals) were discovered living in the depths of the oceans near hydrothermal vents – areas of new crust formation at the spreading junction of tectonic plates.  The main ones are down the centre of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Working out how these bacteria survived in an area with no oxygen to use was finally solved when it was realised – they didn’t!  Instead they use methane and other chemicals pumped out during the ocean ridge processes.

Then I had the chance to go to the Southampton Oceanography Centre and get a tour (and a trip out on a vessel in the Solent and do some surveying).  One of the things we saw was a survey pod being readied to go out to the Antarctic, to look for evidence of microscopic life under the ice cap.  I was delighted to see some years later than they had found methane archaea there – bacteria-like single cell animals that synthesise methane to provide their energy for growth, breeding, etc.

Which brings us to life on Mars – or on Europa, a planet of Jupiter,  more likely.  Europa seems to have ice crusts and under that, methane seas.  So after we finish looking for evidence of life on Mars, such as bacteria-like archaea using carbon dioxide or nitrogen (or methane), perhaps we’ll send a probe to Europa and see if there’s life under the ice there.

As I said – amazing nature!

Fi50I used this business of methane bacteria in a flash fiction genre mash-up a year or so back – it’s called The Last Ice-cream, and I think it was a dying earth/erotica mash-up, so be warned.  My blog shouldn’t be anything worse than PG, though 🙂  But since today is also my Fiction in 50 (words) day, I’ll strip it down to essentials with this story:

Our world was dying. We, the brain consortiums, looked for new hosts. The methane bacteria were limiting, physically, but we needed no movement. 

“I  challenge you to a game!  Others will judge!”

“The subject?”

“Your most erotic memory.”

We won, evoking ‘licking ice-cream on a hot day at the beach’.

Picture credits: Header image Antarctic Lake from DailyGalaxy.com; Photos at SOC (author); Europa pictures from S283, Open University; Mars pictures from the Mars Mapping project (ultimately all the space ones are NASA)

Methane Archaea
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11 thoughts on “Methane Archaea

  • 15 April, 2015 at 8:08 am

    Right, got the quote wrong. It should be:

    “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know” and it’s attributed to Aristotle. Then there’s:

    “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” (Einstein) And my personal favorite (because I read it in a book):

    “The more that you read the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (Dr. Seuss)

    Happy Wednesday.

  • 15 April, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Oops. Looks as though my first post didn’t go up. Ah, well. Let’s try it again. I said I’d just finished listening to a talk given by Dr. Neil deGrass Tyson that mentioned the possibility of anaerobic microscopic life on both Mars and Europa and how nice it was to hear it from you as well. Then I screwed up the “The more you know…” quote. (Of course if it turned out you’re just moderating my last post, this one’s not necessary and you can delete it. Easy stuff.)

    • 15 April, 2015 at 5:09 pm

      I’ve checked my spam and moderation, nothing left in there, so sorry it ate your first message. Yes, it’s an amazing universe!

  • 15 April, 2015 at 11:25 am

    great post – I’m no expert but love reading all things like this – having popped in I have ear marked you so that I can come back and read them all – nice snippet:)

    • 15 April, 2015 at 5:04 pm

      Well, thank you so much. I’m no expert either, and I really do agree with Suzanne’s quotes – the more you learn, the more there is to learn – and of course there are so many things other people have discovered since I learnt what I know…

  • 15 April, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    Fascinating, Jemima. You’ve gone to some really interesting places and am glad you’re taking us along with you! Once, in a basic biology class I was teaching, a student wrote a sci fi story for me about a world where life was silicon based!

    • 15 April, 2015 at 5:07 pm

      That’s the basis of my favourite Star Trek Original Series episode, I think it’s called The Danger in the Dark, or something like that (In the Dark is certainly the end of it.) The Enterprise is called to a mining planet where the miners are being killed by a monster that tunnels through solid rock. It turns out to be a silicon based life form protecting her eggs… a famous Spock mind-meld example!

  • 15 April, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    So much amazing stuff in nature.

    • 15 April, 2015 at 5:07 pm


  • 17 May, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Hi Jemima – it is amazing what they’ve found now … and how they keep upping the ante and looking for new life, or different life … cheers HIlary

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