The ecology of bizarre aquatic microbial slime communities deep beneath the Nullarbor desert

2013 Research Award Highly Commended

Professor Ian Paulsen and Dr Sasha Tetu, Faculty of Science

It has traditionally been thought that almost all life on earth ultimately derives its energy from sunlight. However, deep below ground certain microbes can use chemicals to generate energy. Exploring these dark communities infinitely expands our understanding of life on this planet, and indeed the possibility of life elsewhere.

Beneath Australia’s Nullarbor desert, underwater caves house microbial “slimes” living in complete darkness. We discovered that this community is composed of diverse bacterial and archaeal genera, and generates energy by oxidising ammonia and nitrite from cave water.

This is the first record of an unusual and unique way of living.

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