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Hydrothermal Vent Communities
(Released May 2006)

 
  by Carolyn Scearce  

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Why study hydrothermal vents?

Contents

The prospect of studying hydrothermal vents presents a number of challenges, as site locations are frequently remote and found at great depths, and obtaining samples can require considerable ingenuity and complicated equipment. Considering these challenges, one might ask what the value is of studying these remote biological communities. Their existence presents a number of intriguing questions and the possibilities for even more intriguing answers. Since their discovery, scientists have speculated that life on earth may have first evolved under conditions similar to those found at hydrothermal vents (Little & Vrijenhoek, 2003). Genomic studies suggest that some of the thermophilic microorganisms found at hydrothermal vents come from very ancient lineages (Teske et al, 2003).

Furthermore, a number of scientists have suggested that the environment at vent sites might be similar to conditions on other planets. The chemosynthetic model may offer a glimpse of what conditions might be faced by life in extraterrestrial systems. Studies of succession and vent biogeography provide a basis of comparison to address how other aquatic and terrestrial communities found in isolated systems develop and are populated. On a more immediately practical side, vent microorganisms might offer useful natural products and new biotechnologies, such as high temperature tolerant enzymes (Deming, 1998). Studies of vent invertebrates, such as Riftia pachyptila, also show interesting body chemistries that help these organisms adapt to the stresses of the environment (Yancey, 2005). Whatever the questions that stimulate an individual, the discovery of hydrothermal vent communities has expanded our knowledge of the diversity of life and our understanding of the range of conditions in which life on earth can thrive.

© Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved, CSA

References

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