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Lords of the Underworld: Radiation Eating 'Worms from Hell' Discovered a Mile Below Earth's Surface -"A Preview of Life of Mars"


"If life did originate on Mars and if it had sufficient time to go underground deep enough to survive worsening conditions, “then evolution of Martian life might have continued underground. . . . Life on Mars could be more complex than we imagined.”

Gaetan Borgonie of the University of Ghent

Biologists have found complex, multi-celled creatures living a mile and more below the planet’s surface for the first time, raising new possibilities about the spread of life on Earth and potential subsurface life on other planets and moons.

The two lead scientists, Gaetan Borgonie of the University of Ghent in Belgium and Tullis Onstott of Princeton University, said the discovery of creatures so far below ground, with nervous, digestive and reproductive systems, was the equivalent to finding “Moby Dick in Lake Ontario.”

Dubbed  “worms from hell,” the nematodes, or roundworms, were discovered in several gold mines in South Africa, where researchers have also made other breakthrough discoveries about deep subterranean single-cell life.

“This is telling us something brand new,” said Onstott, whose pioneering work in South Africa over the past decade has revolutionized the understanding of extreme microbial life. “For a relatively complex creature like a nematode to penetrate that deep is simply remarkable,” he added.

The subterranean nematodes, one of which was formally named Halicephalobus mephisto after the “Lord of the Underworld,” were described this week in the journal Nature. H. mephisto was found in water flowing from a borehole about one mile below the surface in the Beatrix gold mine.

Borgonie said that although nematodes are known to exist on the deep ocean floor, they have generally not been found more than 10 to 20 feet below the surface of the ground or the ocean bed, but he saw no reason they wouldn’t be found farther down.

In addition to uncovering a new habitat for biology on Earth, Borgonie and Onstott stressed that this could have important implications for astrobiology. Microbes could be living below the cold, dry surface of Mars that's bombarded by harmful radiation but was once much wetter, warmer and better-protected by an atmosphere.

“What we found shows that harsh conditions do not necessarily exclude complexity,” Borgonie said.

The Daily Galaxy via nature.com

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Picture of the worm(s) with this article would have been interesting.

This is an eye-opener for me. I'd been very skeptical that we'd ever find much in the way of complex life elsewhere in our solar system, except possibly on Europa (which strikes me as having good potential for warm-blooded fish and cephalapods), but this raises a whole range of new possibilities.

I still doubt that we'll ever find anything as complex as, say, insects or arachnids (notwithstanding Europa). But I was clearly wrong before, and I could easily be wrong about that.

Addendum: I wrote the above before I saw today's article on Enceladus. Put that one next to Europa. (And I think there's another moon in either Saturn's or Jupiter's systems that I've seen as a reasonable candidate, but I can't recall which one offhand.)

Note that nowhere in the article does it discuss what these worms are eating, so where did the title “Radiation Eating …” come from? If they are sustaining themselves on radiation that mechanism would also be a significant find.

Title= worm and radiation eating

Article = no worm and no radiation eating


Aside from the issue a couple of people mentioned about radiation, you also don't correctly link to the source article (as of 6/4/11, 6pm EST)...

Bob, I think you might be thinking of Titan, Saturn's largest moon and the second largest in the Solar System after Jupiter's Ganymede. It has a dense atmosphere and liquid oceans (probably methane). I agree Europa, Titan and Enceladus are the three best candidates, other than Mars, for life in the Solar System outside of Earth.

Europa is not ours...

europa is a moon around jupiter that we also have as a candidate for life, as it apears to be completely made of water, its surface being solid but core, and vast majority of it, being liquid due to tidal stress forces from the orbits of the other moons around jupiter.

Bob is extremely pompus.

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