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Each Grain Of Sand On the Ocean Floor Is Home to A Diverse, Mysterious Microbial World

Source: The Atlantic/Veronique Greenwood - January 10, 2018 in Adventure

Each Grain Of Sand On the Ocean Floor Is Home to A Diverse, Mysterious Microbial World
Photo: Jakob Owens/Unsplash
Sand is not as passive as you might think. Down on the ocean floor, it’s filtering seawater and, thanks to a teeming set of microbes living on it, busily processing nutrients from the constant rain of sediment drifting downward. Microbiologists have studied the tiny inhabitants of sand by analyzing bulk DNA extracted from scoops of ocean floor, but while this can give you a general list of the bugs there, it doesn’t explain how they live with each other—which ones are neighbors, which ones are competitors, which grow together, what they are up to.To start to get at that question, microbiologists recently used DNA to identify the bacteria living on 17 individual grains of sand from the seafloor near the German resort island of Helgoland and painstakingly examined hundreds of other grains with microscopes to see the creatures’ living arrangements. The results, which were published last month in The ISME Journal, provide a detailed picture of the ecology of each grain of sand, revealing the cities, villages, and hinterlands of these miniature worlds.

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