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Slo-Mo Microbes Extend the Frontiers of Life

from Nature News

Most humans would struggle to last for much more than a minute under water without coming up for air, whereas some seals can manage more than an hour--but a microbial community living tens of metres beneath the Pacific Ocean floor can do even better.

Using so little oxygen that they barely qualify as life, the microbes, discovered by Hans Røy and his colleagues of the Centre for Geomicrobiology at Aarhus University in Denmark, have exceptionally low metabolic rates. And biomass turnover--the replacement of the building blocks essential to life--occurs only once every few hundred or even every few thousand years.

Microbes require oxygen to generate the energy to maintain an electric potential across their membrane and to keep their enzymes and DNA ticking over, so the researchers think that the sea-floor critters may be living at the absolute minimum energy requirement needed to subsist. And they must be doing something right: the community of microbial couch potatoes, described today in Science, is 86 million years old.

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