Chemoautotrophy at Deep-Sea Vents: Past, Present, and Future Academic Article uri icon


  • Chemolithoautotrophic microorganisms are at the nexus of hydrothermal systems by effectively transferring the energy from the geothermal source to the higher trophic levels. While the validity of this conceptual framework is well established at this point, there are still significant gaps in our understanding of the microbiology and biogeochemistry of deep-sea hydrothermal systems. Important questions in this regard are: (1) How much, at what rates, and where in the system is organic carbon being produced? (2) What are the dominant autotrophs, where do they reside, and what is the relative importance of free-swimming, biofilm-forming, and symbiotic microbes? (3) Which metabolic pathways are they using to conserve energy and to fix carbon? (4) How does community-wide gene expression in fluid and biofilm communities compare? and (5) How efficiently is the energy being utilized, transformed into biomass, and transferred to higher trophic levels? In particular, there is currently a notable lack of process-oriented studies that would allow an assessment of the larger role of these ecosystems in global biogeochemical cycles. By combining the presently available powerful "omic" and single-cell tools with thermodynamic modeling, experimental approaches, and new in situ instrumentation to measure rates and concentrations, it is now possible to bring our understanding of these truly fascinating ecosystems to a new level and to place them in a quantitative framework and thus a larger global context.

publication date

  • March 1, 2012