By Jennifer Gladstone
Deep in the ocean off the coast of Oregon, there is an underwater mountain range called the Juan de Fuca Ridge. The rock of this ridge is the home of a newly discovered microbial phylum called Aminicenantes. A phylum is a very broad grouping of organisms, so broad that humans, and sharks and giraffes are all in the same phylum.
With such a big potential for diversity, we wanted to learn more about the group Aminicenantes. Like all living organisms, they need different types of biomolecules, which are the building blocks of proteins and DNA. However we don’t yet know how they get these in the rock of the ocean crust. They either use their energy to find the components to create these biomolecules, or they use their energy to get them directly from the environment. If cake is your biomolecule, it’s like spending money on flour, and sugar and butter to make the cake, or going to a bakery and buying a premade cake.
Water circulating through holes in the crustal rock does not bring many nutrients, and the Aminicenantes found there have to make do with these nutrients. Because it is such a nutrient poor environment, we don’t yet know if Amincenantes are capable of making their own cake.
We are analyzing DNA to determine if Aminiceantes can create their own biomolecules. We have to take this approach because these organisms have yet to be grown in the lab as they are used to very extreme conditions. Using computer tools, we compare their DNA to the DNA of well known organisms. This gives us an idea of what genes are present and what processes these microbes are capable of performing. With this approach, we are investigating how such a remarkable organism is capable of surviving in such an extreme environment.
Jennifer Gladstone is a University of California Santa Barbara student in the 2020 Sea Change Semester Program at Bigelow Laboratory. This intensive experience provides an immersion in ocean research with an emphasis on hands-on, state-of-the-art methods and technologies.