Window to another world: Life is bubbling up to seafloor with petroleum from deep below

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that we move through a world shaped by unseen life. Bacteria, viruses, and other microscopic organisms regulate the Earth’s vital functions and resources, from the air we breathe to all our food and most of our energy sources. An estimated one-third of the Earth’s microbes are literally hidden, buried in sediments deep below the ocean floor. Now, scientists have shown that these “deep biosphere” microbes aren’t staying put but are bubbling up to the ocean floor along with fluids from buried petroleum reservoirs. These hitchhikers in petroleum seeps are diversifying the microbial community that thrives at the seafloor, impacting deep-sea processes, such as carbon cycling, that have global implications.

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