Research Topic

Deep Subsurface Microbiology

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Deep subsurface microbiology is a highly active and rapidly advancing research field at the interface of microbiology and the geosciences; it focuses on the molecular detection and quantification, cultivation, biogeographic examination, and distribution of bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes that permeate the ...

Deep subsurface microbiology is a highly active and rapidly advancing research field at the interface of microbiology and the geosciences; it focuses on the molecular detection and quantification, cultivation, biogeographic examination, and distribution of bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes that permeate the subsurface biosphere of deep marine sediments and the basaltic ocean and continental crust. The deep subsurface biosphere abounds with uncultured, only recently discovered and – at best - incompletely understood microbial populations. In spatial extent and volume, the subsurface biosphere is only rivaled by the deep sea water column. So far, no deep subsurface sediment has been found that is entirely devoid of microbial life; microbial cells and DNA remain detectable at sediment depths of more than 1 km; microbial life permeates deeply buried hydrocarbon reservoirs, and is also found several kilometers down in continental crust aquifers. Severe energy limitation, either as electron acceptor or donor shortage, and scarcity of microbially degradable organic carbon sources are among the evolutionary pressures that have shaped the genomic and physiological repertoire of the deep subsurface biosphere. Its biogeochemical importance as long-term organic carbon repository, inorganic electron and energy source, and subduction recycling engine, is a major focus of current research at the interface of microbiology, geochemistry and biosphere/geosphere evolution.

The Frontiers in Extreme Microbiology Research Topic will address some of the central research questions about deep subsurface microbiology and biogeochemistry: phylogenetic and physiological microbial diversity in the deep subsurface; microbial activity and survival strategies in severely energy-limited subsurface habitats; cell-specific microbial activity as reflected in process rates and gene expression patterns; biogeographic isolation and connectivity in deep subsurface microbial communities; the ecological standing of subsurface biospheres in comparison to the surface biosphere – an independently flourishing biosphere, or mere survivors that tolerate burial (along with organic carbon compounds), or a combination of both? Advancing these questions on Earth’s deep subsurface biosphere has far-ranging implications, last but not least for the field of astrobiology and the search for subsurface life beyond Earth.

Abstract submission deadline: 15 July 2011
Article submission deadline: 1 September 2011


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be in line with the scope of the specialty and field to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Manuscripts discovered during any stage of peer review to be outside of the scope may be transferred to a suitable section or field, or withdrawn from review.

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