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Scientists Discover Strange, Hairy Bacteria Thriving in Underwater Volcano’s Post-Eruption Apocalyptic Habitat

Apr 25, 2017 11:49 AM EDT
Undersea Volcano Erupts Off of Tonga
An underwater volcano created the perfect conditions for Venus's hair bacteria to emerge.
(Photo : Dana Stephenson/Getty Images)

One organism's apocalypse is another's habitat. Scientists discovered that when an underwater volcano wiped out all forms of life in its vicinity, a bizarre kind of bacteria began to inhabit the space.

According to a report from New Scientist, the colonies of the bizarre organism were first discovered in 2014 during an expedition to Tagoro Volcano off the coast of Canary Islands. The researchers were there to study the effects of an eruption that occurred two years ago, which reshaped a nine square kilometer expanse of the sea floor.

With their robotic submarine, what they found was an unusual mat of "very long white filaments" that was unfamiliar to them. The team named it Venus's hair after Botticelli's painting that depicted the goddess Venus over the sea.

Robert Danovaro of the Polytechnic University of Marche, Italy explained that the organism they found was unlike any other they've previously encountered. It has an extensive variety of metabolic functions that enable it to thrive in the harsh environment surrounding it. The hydrogen sulphide emanating from the rocks is an energy source for Venus's hair, instead of being fatal to it like it is to many organisms.

Both Danovaro and David Kirchman of the University of Delaware believe that the drop in temperature marked the beginning of the bacteria's colonization, particularly when the rocks reached a temperature below 100 degrees Celsius. Kirchman thinks low amounts of Venus's hair are usually present in the water column.

"It's helpful to remember that each drop of seawater contains millions of bacteria and that only one of them, in theory, is needed to colonize a new habitat," says Kirchman. "The Venus's hair bacterium could have been in this 'rare biosphere' and by chance came across the virgin habitat created by the volcanic eruption."

The three-dimensional that Venus's hair created allowed more organisms like crustaceans and worms to move in.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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