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Successful deployment of an autonomous deep-sea explorer to search for new forms of microbial life

Date:
August 14, 2013
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
Scientists are reporting "a significant step forward" in proving the feasibility of launching fleets of autonomous robots that search Earth's deep oceans for exotic new life forms. Their description of successful deployment of the trailblazer for such a project -- an autonomous seafloor lander equipped with a mini-laboratory the size of a kitchen trash can that is able to detect minute traces of DNA in the deep oceans.

The successful test-run of a deep-sea explorer represents a significant step toward proving the feasibility of launching autonomous robots to search Earth’s deep oceans for exotic new life forms.
Credit: 2010 Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

Scientists are reporting "a significant step forward" in proving the feasibility of launching fleets of autonomous robots that search Earth's deep oceans for exotic new life forms. Their description of successful deployment of the trailblazer for such a project -- an autonomous seafloor lander equipped with a mini-laboratory the size of a kitchen trash can that is able to detect minute traces of DNA in the deep oceans -- appears in ACS' journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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William Ussler III and colleagues note that exotic forms of life may still remain undiscovered around the methane vents in the deep ocean floor that already have yielded previously unknown albino crabs, bacteria that consume methane and other organisms new to science. However, scientists have had very limited access to the deep ocean to search systematically for such life forms. Ussler and his team set out to modify a successful shallow-water robotic laboratory, called an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), to work autonomously in the extreme conditions of the deep sea and provide that access. The ESP was conceived, designed and built by researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

They describe development and successful deployment of the deep-sea ESP (D-ESP) at an active methane vent in California's Santa Monica Bay. The robotic laboratory inside the D-ESP collected and analyzed water samples in real-time for genetic signatures of microbial life in this methane-rich environment a half-mile below the ocean surface. "The deployments of the D-ESP described here are a significant step forward in proving that autonomous molecular analytical laboratories can be used in the deep ocean. To our knowledge, these tests are the first successful deployments of an ecogenomic sensor that unequivocally detected the abundance of microbial genes, in real-time, at water depths greater than 1,600 feet," say the researchers.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. William Ussler, Christina Preston, Patricia Tavormina, Doug Pargett, Scott Jensen, Brent Roman, Roman Marin, Sunita R. Shah, Peter R. Girguis, James M. Birch, Victoria Orphan, Christopher Scholin. Autonomous Application of Quantitative PCR in the Deep Sea: In Situ Surveys of Aerobic Methanotrophs Using the Deep-Sea Environmental Sample Processor. Environmental Science & Technology, 2013; 130808081332004 DOI: 10.1021/es4023199

Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Successful deployment of an autonomous deep-sea explorer to search for new forms of microbial life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130814124903.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2013, August 14). Successful deployment of an autonomous deep-sea explorer to search for new forms of microbial life. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130814124903.htm
American Chemical Society. "Successful deployment of an autonomous deep-sea explorer to search for new forms of microbial life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130814124903.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

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