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!
I 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!”
“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)