25 Jun, 2015 570 Biology

In 1977, scientists in the submersible “Alvin” were exploring the deep ocean bed off the Galapagos Islands. In the dark, they discovered hydrothermal vents, like chimneys, from which superheated water flowed. Around the vents there was an extraordinary variety of life, feeding on microbes which were thriving in the acidity and extreme temperature of the vents. While it was already known that some microbes are extremophiles, thriving in extreme conditions, such as the springs and geysers of Yellowstone Park (pictured), that had not prepared scientists for what they now found. Since the “Alvin” discovery, the increased study of extremophile microbes has revealed much about what is and is not needed to sustain life on Earth and given rise to new theories about how and where life began. It has also suggested forms and places in which life might be found elsewhere in the Universe.

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  • Monica Grady 9 episodes
    Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University
  • Ian Crawford 2 episodes
    Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology at Birkbeck University of London
  • Nick Lane 5 episodes
    Reader in Evolutionary Biochemistry at University College London

Reading list

  • Life in the Universe
    Lewis Dartnell (Oneworld Publications, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Ecology of Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents
    Cindy Lee Van Dover (Princeton University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • In Search of Cell History: The Evolution of Life's Building Blocks
    Franklin M. Harold (University of Chicago Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • Life on a Young Planet: The First Three Billion Years of Evolution on Earth
    Andrew H. Knoll (Princeton University Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Vital Question: Why is life the way it is?
    Nick Lane (Profile Books, 2015) Google Books →
  • Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology
    Woodruff T. Sullivan and John A. Baross (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • Life at the Limits: Organisms in Extreme Environments
    David A. Wharton (Cambridge University Press, 2002) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b05zl3v2

Episode page: bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05zl3v2

Auto-category: 576.8 (Astrobiology)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In 1977, scientists made a discovery deep under the oceans that gave clues to life we might find in deepest space.