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Science and Discovery

Life underground

Understanding how organisms survive in extreme conditions, could give us insight into life on other planets, lead to new fuel sources or find new antibiotics.
Collecting biology samples underground

Extreme life

Believe it or not, nearly a mile underground, life thrives. These organisms live in communities called biofilms inside the rock and water that accumulates underground. Scientists want to know more about how they survive. For example, what do they eat? How do they breathe? Many absorb minerals as food and oxygen. We know that most organisms can’t live in these conditions, yet communities of biofilms thrive in the extreme conditions of the thermal pools at Yellowstone, the polar ice caps, deep sea ocean vents, and Sanford Lab. That’s why we call them extremophiles. 

Extreme conditions

Extreme conditions

In Sanford Lab's unique ecosystems, microbes from the earth's surface interact with microbes that are indigenous to the deep underground where there are limited nutritional resources, and no light. 

Learning more about what is living deep underground, and understanding the biochemical pathways those microbes use to survive could lead to new biotechnological advances.

Practical uses

Practical uses

Why study the microbiological diversity deep underground? Once you understand it, you can target certain groups and create practical applications. For example, researchers and students are looking for ways to use microbes to convert solid waste into biofuels, create polymers and use bacteria to find potential antibiotics.

Mars rover

Testing space equipment

Trying to understand how microbes survive without access to oxygen and limited nutritional resources; and hoping to develop technology that will be used in the next mission to Mars.