Research highlight

Venus's hair thrives after volcanic eruption

Nature Ecology & Evolution

April 25, 2017

A new bacterial species, which colonized an underwater volcano after its eruption wiped out the original surrounding life, is described in a paper published online this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The study provides insights into understanding how life restarts and the creation of new habitats following a catastrophic event.

Just like on land, underwater volcanic eruptions produce lava and toxic gases, destroying all life in their vicinity, from bacteria to fish. Off the coast of the Canary Islands, the Tagoro submarine volcano erupted between 2011 and 2012, doing just that.

However, two years on, Roberto Danovaro and colleagues found that the seafloor around the volcano had been colonized by huge microbial mats that extended for kilometres. They used remotely operated vehicles, armed with tools for molecular, geochemical and microscopic analysis, to characterize the most striking of these previously unknown microbial organisms, hair-like strands of bacterial cells that they named Thiolava veneris (common name: Venus's hair). They find that T. veneris thrives in the sulfur-rich post-eruption environment, and, because of its ability to harness energy from both oxygen and nitrates, forms the basis of a food-chain in this seemingly hostile environment.

In an accompanying News & Views, David Kirchman writes: “Perhaps work could address even broader questions about where and how a cell first formed to take advantage of geothermal energy like microorganisms now do at the Tagoro volcano.”

doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0144

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