Quirks & Quarks

Complex Creatures Thrive Deep Underground

Sealed deep underground, a chemical-fuelled ecosystem that includes multicellular life has thrived for thousands of years.

South African gold mine reveals worms buried for 10,000 years

Microscopic Nematode worm burrowing in microbial biofilm (blue) collected at Kopanang Gold Mine at -1.4 km. (Gaetan Borgonie, Extreme Life isyensya, Belgium)
Over the last several years, researchers have discovered that the Earth's biosphere extends deeper underground than had ever been thought. In fractures in rock, many kilometres underground, microbial life has been found to flourish, making a living by taking chemical energy from rocks and even oil.

Now, a new study by a team, including Dr. Barbara Sherwood-Lollar, a geochemist in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto, has found that even more complex organisms can survive, sealed up deep underground. They found nematode worms and other multicellular organisms in a South African gold mine, more than 1.4 km deep.

The organisms had been carried deep into the Earth in water that percolated underground through cracks and fissures, more that ten thousand years ago, and had survived ever since, sealed up in the deep Earth.

Related Links

Paper in Nature Communications
Astrobiology Magazine article
Washington Post story
- CBC News story