Life is a Persistent, Funny Old Thing: New Fossils and Undersea Life
Life is Persistent
The more the nooks and crannies of the Earth are peered into, the more evidence we see that life is persistent and varied.
In the January 24, 2012 issue of mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology, is a weighty little paper called Life and Death of Deep-Sea Vents: Bacterial Diversity and Ecosystem Succession on Inactive Hydrothermal Sulfides.
The super-short version of the paper is this: We've known since the 1970s that microbial communities thrive around warm hydrothermal vents underseas. Until the newly released paper, it was believed that life died out around the vents as they went dormant. Instead, a new crop of microbial life crops up to replace the old. The new life subsists on the cold, metallic sulfides and iron oxides.
This type of ecological succession is similar to processes that go on above the waves. A simple example is a forest fire. Once a fire burns through an old forest, the new growth is different than the old growth that preceded it.
Life is Varied
Like new life discovered in the depths of the oceans, the plains of Antarctica, or the deep jungles of Asia, there is also life being looked at from the depths of time. Siphusauctum gregarium, a tulip-shaped creature, whose fossils are found in the Burgess Shale Formation of Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada.
This shale formation, discovered in 1909, is receiving renewed interest today because of the number of Problematica, or species discovered there that are as yet unrelated to other species. The creature, which filter-fed from the sea floor is unrelated to anything else in the shale. In fact, it's unrelated to anything else heretofore discovered. It's a new family, genus, phyla--the whole works.
The paper detailing the new creature can be viewed at the Public Library of Science: A New Stalked Filter-Feeder from the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, British Columbia, Canada. It was published January 18, 2012.
Life is Everywhere
Where ever we've looked on this planet, we've found life or evidence of previous life. The life around inactive sea vents opens the possibility of life far beneath the Earth's surface. The colonies of Siphusauctum gregarium and other as-yet undiscovered, unrelated creatures shows that new species, unrelated to any yet known, are waiting out there for us to find them.
I would hope, as we eventually move out into the solar system, that we will continue to find new and exciting life.