Giant Microbe updates

The End of Expedition 327

posted Sep 3, 2010, 12:16 PM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings from the JOIDES Resolution, microbe lovers! After almost two months at sea, today is last day of operations on Expedition 327. Everyone is busy packing up samples and equipment while the final sediment cores are arriving on deck. On Sunday the ship will finally arrive back in Victoria, Canada. Many of the scientists will be heading straight to the closest salad bar for some fresh fruits and veggies (we ran out of those a few weeks ago)! 

A big high five to everyone that participated in the Adopt A Microbe project during this expedition! We hope that you all had as much fun as we did with the projects and learning about the exotic microbial life on Earth! Stay tuned to the JOIDES Resolution website for news about future Adopt A Microbe projects connected to other ocean drilling expeditions.

Long live microbes!

A big thanks from the Adopt A Microbe project team of Expedition 327!  
(left to right) Amanda Turner (the voice of DEBI), Beth Orcutt, Andy Fisher (the voice of Mario the Marinobacter), 
and Dinah Bowman (illustrator for the DEBI and Mario stories).

Final letter from Mario the Marinobacter

posted Sep 1, 2010, 12:43 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings, microbe friends! Here’s the final letter from Mario the Marinobacter about his adventures in the oceanic crust and triumphant return to the surface world – SAM 

So I was just getting acquainted with my new neighborhood, oxidizing a little iron from the rock, munching on some loose carbon, and I feel this nudge on my back. At least, I think it was my back – sometimes I have a hard time telling my front from my back, since other than my flagellum, I pretty much look the same from all sides. Anyways, I turn around and there's Lenny! He's lit up like Lindsey Lohan on a bender, and boy, does he have a story to tell. Seems he was pulled into the same ship as me, but instead of getting pumped down into the seafloor, he was filtered out of the water and stained with some kind of fluorescent dye. Then he got mixed in with a bunch of fluorescent balls and mixed back in with seawater and pumped down into the seafloor. It was funny, but once he got moving through the rock, he was flowing pretty good, but the smaller spheres were moving faster in the cracks and gaps in the rock, and Lenny and the other fluorescent stained microbes got left behind. So now we are back together. Lenny told me that there is another big metal pipe just a short distance away, so we went over to look at it, and sun of a gun, we got sucked into another tube! This time we were going up, up, up, and the tube was made of some kind of inert material that we couldn't eat. We don't fight the flow, just go along for the ride, and then we come out and you will never believe what we see: a white submarine! 

One arm of the sub is holding a bottle attached to the tube we are flowing through, and we flow into that bottle. Then the next thing you know, we are carried up in the ocean, and then it starts to get warmer and brighter, and Bang! There we are at the surface again. So I says to Lenny, "Bug, no one is going to believe this story." We figure we'll keep it to ourselves for a while (other than telling you, that is). It was a fun adventure, but I think we are both glad to be back in the surface ocean again.

Third letter from Mario

posted Aug 28, 2010, 11:42 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings, microbe friends! Here’s another letter from Mario the Marinobacter, which gives little insight into the unique tracer experiment that the scientists were conducting yesterday  – SAM 

So I'm hanging out in the pore space, all glommed on to a particle of rock with some other expat Marinobacter aquaeolei, and we're trading stories about the life back in the surface ocean, when all of a sudden, the ground starts to shake and then things go nuts. A giant pipe comes down right past where we are chilling, and the next thing I know, the pipe stops and out comes a rush of water filled with rare earth salts (yum!), sulfur hexafluoride gas (eh), and bright fluorescent particles (which make the most excellent flagellum soccer balls), followed by a slime of glowing bacteria. I'm sitting there watching all of this stuff stream by, and guess who I see? It's Lenny! He's stained bright yellow, and he's mixed in with all the other stuff being pumped into the rock. 

I barely get a look at him and then he's gone, heading off along a big fracture towards the northeast. I don't have much time to think and I have to make a fast decision, so I release from the particle I'm holding and flagellate my way into the stream of funny water, going with the flow. I know that Lenny would do the same for me. Now you might think that a big fracture in rubbly rock is pretty continuous, but it's not. It goes this way and that way, getting thinner and wider, breaking off into other fractures that join up again. 

I ride the water for a while, and eventually it slows down. Finally, it slows enough that I can get out of the flow and grab on to a new rock and get a look around. I don’t see Lenny, but there are more Archaeaglobus fulgidus and a few other species I've never seen before. I figure I'll give it a go in this new neighborhood, since I'm realizing that I'll probably never get back to the photic zone again. That's OK, I'm getting used to it down here, and I want to keep looking for Lenny, to find out how he got that fluorescent stain and all.

Second letter from Mario

posted Aug 25, 2010, 7:21 AM by Beth Orcutt

Greetings, microbe friends! Here’s another letter from Mario the MarinobacterSAM 

So now I've been down in this rocky place for a few days, and guess what? I'm not alone! There are a bunch of other microbes down here, but I don't mean bugs like the ones I am used to seeing in the photic zone of the surface ocean (it's OK if one microbe calls another microbe a "bug," if it is done in a friendly way, but don't let me catch you doing it. Got that?). You see, up there I tend to hang out with a lot of phototrophs. Now don't get me wrong, I'm as heterotrophic as the next M. aquaeolei, it's just that I like a little variety once and a while, and those phototrophs fix carbon dioxide like crazy, making the most excellent sugar chains and fatty acids. Plus they have all-access passes for the cool microbe hot spots, like the PCR and the Gram-negative Room. But are there phototrophs down here in the rock? No way! What would they do without the sun? Instead, there are a bunch of bugs who live a distinctly alternative lifestyle. Fortunately, they are all quite friendly, and my best new friend is Archie, an Archaeoglobus fulgidus who prefers warm conditions and eats sulfate. I'm OK with that, except that Archie tends to outgas a little rotten-egg smelling hydrogen sulfide once and a while, and let me tell you I've never seen anyone clear a pore space faster than Archie after he's finished a big meal. So I guess I'm settling in down here, making the most of the current situation. I kind of miss the sun, but there seems to be enough oxygen that was pumped into the rock with me, and so long as I've got that and a carbon source and some iron (like they have in the rock down here, plus the occasional piece of pipe left down here by that ship I was telling you about), I think I'm going to be OK. I just wish I could find Lenny. I'm going to keep looking, and I'll tell you if I find him when I write to you next time.

That's Mario in red, exploring his new rocky subsurface home with his friend Archie.  Do you recognize DEBI?

Giant Microbe video: OsmoSamplers!

posted Aug 22, 2010, 10:54 PM by Beth Orcutt

After the CORK observatory was installed inside the oceanic crust at Hole U1362A (check here for a video of that operation), the next step was to put together all of the instruments that will sit inside the CORK for the next few years.  Here is a video that documents the assembly of the OsmoSamplers – devices that will slowly collect fluids from the oceanic crust each day for the next few years.  These experiments will help the scientists to better understand the composition of the fluids (and the microbes!) that are circulating the oceanic crust in this environment.   

Many thanks to our friends in the band Still Flyin’ for allowing us to use their music in this video!


Microbes to the Rescue!

posted Aug 22, 2010, 8:55 AM by Beth Orcutt

Since so many of you have adopted Alcanivorax, I thought you might be interested in this recent story highlighting the important role that Alcanivorax is playing in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. 

If you have any questions about the story, please feel free to send 'em our way.

Giant Microbe Video: CORK assembly

posted Aug 20, 2010, 9:33 AM by Beth Orcutt

A few days ago, the first CORK observatory experiment of IODP Expedition 327 was landed at Hole U1362A.  Here's a video documenting the assembly of the CORK on the JOIDES Resolution.  Coming soon - a video documenting the assembly of the instrument string that was deployed inside the CORK.

U1362A CORK assembly

First letter from Mario

posted Aug 18, 2010, 7:26 AM by Beth Orcutt

Howdy! We’ve started getting letters and pictures from a new microbe friend – Mario the Marinobacter. Here’s his first story. - SAM 

So there I was, floating along in the photic zone, hanging with my buddies. Then I was abducted. I'm Mario, a Marinobacter aquaeolei bacterium, and on a normal day like today I like nothing better than being in the ocean; 3.5% salinity is just right for most of my species, but personally I like it a little saltier, maybe 4 or even 5%. I don't care what my doctor says about cutting back on salt. Besides, my brother likes it even more extreme (if you catch my drift). But I'm not here to talk about him, this is my story. Anyhow, there I was, floating along in the ocean, oxidizing iron, degrading incidental hydrocarbon, waving my flagellum if a cute Marinobacter hydrocarbonoclasticus wanders by. I don't mind a little interspecies commingling, since we share a lot of our DNA, and we both prefer a "particle attached" lifestyle, if you know what I mean. Besides, I love the way M. hydrocarbonoclasticus talks, that accent is so hot. 
Mario is the red microbe with the bow-tie, M. hydrocarbonoclasticus is in blue, and the ship in the background is the JOIDES Resolution.

So then I notice this big ship moving by, and I reorient myself to point this out to my pal, Lenny, who's hanging on to the same particle as me. I'm thinking, "Hey, maybe we'll get a little iron from the ship's hull, or maybe we'll get some light machine oil from the bilge water." That would really make my day. But the next thing you know, Lenny is pulled off the particle and into an intake on the side of the ship, and I'm getting pulled into it too, along with all the other bacteria and the phytoplankton and zooplankton and everything else floating in the water. So, I'm sucked up into that ship, and let me tell you it was a wild ride: up and down and sideways, through all these tubes and pipes, into a massive pump of some kind, and the next thing you know, I'm heading straight down, down, down. It felt like it went on forever, and it is totally dark and getting colder with every minute. Finally, I come out of that pipe and …it is weird. It's totally dark, no sun, and there is rough volcanic rock everywhere. Although the water I rode down on was surface seawater, its mixing with the water in the rock, and that water is warmer and, well, different. I'm going to do some exploring, and I'll tell you more about what it's like down here in my next letter.
Mario and Lenny in the tubes on the ship.

Final letter from DEBI

posted Aug 11, 2010, 1:34 AM by Beth Orcutt

Today on the Giant Microbe Update, another postcard from my microbe cousin DEBI who lives in the oceanic crust. - SAM 

Well, friends, we have found our new home! And what a marvelous place it is too! We left our neighbors in Lithotrophia and set out on the current for our next settlement. After an exciting ride through the fastest current I’ve ever seen down here, we got sucked up into a strange cloudy white elevator and then we saw them. The most beautiful condos we’ve ever seen! There was a place for everybody. Ned in his sulfur palace. Me in my iron kingdom. With this beautifully steady current, Ned, myself and our crews can produce more than enough fuel for everyone else! The spaces between the condos are great places to relax and enjoy the current too. This is paradise. Just paradise. I miss our neighbors in the rock but I have a feeling this is the start of a beautiful life. Perhaps we’ll send a telegram for them to join us. There’s plenty of room for everyone! Thanks for joining us friends. I hope all is well on the surface. We’ll be thinking of you often. Ciao!

An update

posted Aug 10, 2010, 4:25 PM by Beth Orcutt

Howdy, microbe lovers. Sorry that we’ve been a little lean on the posts this past week – there has been so much going on, we barely have time to keep up with all of the new things that keep happening. Starting a week and a half ago, the scientists on Expedition 327 finally started receiving samples of oceanic crust from drilling and coring. Each time a core is brought on deck, the technicians run out to bring the core into the lab so that the scientists can collect their samples. 

Here’s one of the cores from Hole U1362A being brought onto the catwalk by the technicians. Eric is holding a few pieces of oceanic crust that were caught in the bottom of the core – we have to make sure that each piece is accounted for. It takes many people to carry in the 9.5 meter long core barrel that is full of heavy rocks. Photo credit Bill Crawford. 

In the core splitting room, the rock samples are displayed for the first time ever, and the microbiologists and petrologists quickly look over the core to find the best samples. 

Here’s a photo of microbiologist Beth Orcutt and petrologists Michelle Harris and Jennifer Rutter selecting a super awesome rock that they hope contains a lot of microbes! Photo credit Bill Crawford. 

After the microbiologist whisks away the sample to the microbiology lab, the remaining rocks are then cut in half for the scientists to describe and take sub-samples from. This whole process is repeated every few hours for days on end, each time a new core is brought up from deep below the seafloor. Can you guess how much sleep the scientists were getting with that much exciting activity every few hours? 

In the meantime, other folks are busy getting the CORKs ready for deployment. The artist – Dinah Bowman - that has been making the awesome cartoons for DEBI organized a giant art party for everyone to have a chance to decorate the CORK bodies. 

Here's Dinah Bowman during the CORK painting extravaganza. Today is her birthday – Happy Birthday Dinah! 
Photo credit Bill Crawford. 

If you would like to see more photos from Expedition 327, head on over to the photo gallery.

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