Mysterious Carbon-eating Microbes with a Cool Name

Beautiful Costa Rica

According to scientific research, microbes live deep inside earth’s crust in a labyrinth of tunnels and shafts making one of the biggest biomes on the planet.

So big in fact, it is estimated that more than 40 billion tonnes of microorganisms inhabit the Earth’s subsurface despite extreme heat, darkness, limited nutrition and the ever-present ‘stress’ of subterranean pressure.

This treasure trove of life exists as deep as five kilometres inside our planet, so quite obviously these little critters never get to see or feel the warmth of the sun, which means they are metabolically compromised.

AKA lazy some might venture to say. Yet that is not the case at all.

Enter the Sage of all microbes, Chemolithoautotroph, the guru of the underground world.

Credit Cambrian Foundation

(This sounds like the makings of a fantastic sci-fi story plot!).

As their name suggests, these organisms obtain food from inorganic and organic compounds, like nitrogen, phosphorous and iron, and water.

They also get sustenance from carbon.


Hence, the reason why over two years ago, a team of scientists visited Costa Rica’s subduction zone. This is an area where the ocean floor sinks beneath the continent and volcanoes tower above the surface.

The team wanted to find out if microbes can affect the cycle of carbon moving from Earth’s surface into the deep interior. The interior (mantle) is made up of a series of layers that sit below the surface crust.

Scientists found that tonnes of carbon dioxide escapes from oceanic plates, but the carbon was not being released out into the atmosphere. Why not?

It was due to the Chemolithoautotrophs. Just as all living things produce a waste product so do these little creatures.

Their waste product is essentially rocks in the form of minerals, like rust, pyrite and carbonates.

Which made this expedition reveal the first piece of evidence that subterranean life plays a role in removing carbon from subduction zones.

Top Microbiologist, Scientist Karen Lloyd, who was in Costa Rica, raised the question - Could these Chemolithoautotrophs help with our carbon problem?

Lloyd is one of a thousand scientist on a ten-year quest to understand the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon inside Earth and how it can help us on the surface.

If you found this blog interesting then I suggest following Deep Carbon Observatory for future updates on all things carbon and Chemolithoautrophs.


Melissa Coleman

Freelance Journalist/Author/PR Manager



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