Hydrogen-powered hydrothermal vent critters

Scientists have discovered a third source of energy used by animals in the deep sea.

Hydrothermal vents aren’t for the feint hearted. It’s very dark and unbelievably hot down there, not to mention the pressure – we’re talking many miles beneath the waves, here – and all those zingy chemicals, gushing out from cracks in the earth’s crust.

Even so, there are all sorts of brave organisms that seem to rather like it down there (there are even theories that this is where life was kick started, all those years ago). Crabs, lobsters, mussels, clams, shrimps… and they get by eeking out a living from chemosynthetic bacteria trapped inside their gills. Until now, sulphur and methane have been identified as the energy-sources of choice for hydrothermal vent animals. But now we can add hydrogen to the list.

Yes, that’s right. Some hydrothermal vent ecosystems are hydrogen-powered. There are mussels down there with bugs in their gills that grab energy from hydrogen. Turns out other critters have the genetic equipment do to the same thing – including vent shrimp and those enormous tubeworms – even if they don’t seem to put it much use right now.

Here’s me chatting more about these hydrogen-loving mussels on the Naked Scientists podcast.

[mp3j track=”Hydrogen fuel cells found in deep sea mussels. The Naked Scientists@http://nakeddiscovery.com/downloads/split_individual/11.08.14/Naked_Scientists_Show_11.08.14_8849.mp3″]

Listen above or right click to download mp3.

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