Researchers observed remarkable bacteria that can withstand extreme conditions such as heat, pressure, darkness, and incredibly low oxygen levels, the findings could help aid the energy industry.
The bacteria, called Halomonas, lives in sandstone formations that aid in "hydrocarbon extraction and carbon sequestration," a University of Illinois news release reported.
"We are using new DNA technologies to understand the distribution of life in extreme natural environments," said study leader Bruce Fouke, a professor of geology and of microbiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said
Microbes that live underground are believed to be even more diverse than those that reside on the surface.
"Astonishingly little is known of this vast subsurface reservoir of biodiversity, despite our civilization's regular access to and exploitation of subterranean environments," Fouke said.
The team confirmed their findings by analyzing the bacteria in a sandstone reserve over a mile below the surface.
The researchers performed an analysis of the bacteria's genome.
"[We found that] a low-diversity microbial community dominated by Halomonas sulfidaeris-like bacteria that have evolved several strategies to cope with and survive the high-pressure, high-temperature and nutrient deprived deep subsurface environment," Fouke said.
The analysis revealed the bacteria were able to use iron, nitrogen, and other nutrients in the surrounding sandstone, and recycle them to support their own metabolic health.
A similar form of bacteria Halomonas titanicae are currently eating the famous sunken ship, Titanic, one piece of iron at a time.
The Halomonas sulfidaeris were found to be able to metabolize aromatic compounds, which can be found in petroleum.
"This means that these indigenous microbes would have the adaptive edge if hydrocarbon migration eventually does occur," Fouke said.
"[A better understanding of the microbial life of the subterranean world will] enhance our ability to explore for and recover oil and gas, and to make more environmentally sound choices for subsurface gas storage," he said.