Microbial abundance and diversity in 64-74 Ma subseafloor igneous basement from the Louisville Seamount Chain Institutional Repository Document uri icon


  • AbstractThe aquifer in subseafloor igneous basement is a massive, continuous microbial substrate, yet sparingly little is known about life in this habitat. The work to date has focused largely on describing microbial diversity in young basement (<10 Ma) at oceanic spreading regions and ridge flanks, where the basaltic crust is still porous and fluid flow through it is active. While the prevailing belief used to be that fluid flow through older parts of the seafloor was non-existent, recent heat flow models predict that fluid moves through subseafloor basement >65 Ma, and that seamounts can act as mid-plate conduits for fluids into and out of the subsurface aquifer in older crustal settings. Here we test the hypothesis that microbial life exists in subseafloor basement >65Ma using samples collected from the Louisville Seamount Chain via seafloor drilling. Cell biomass was heterogeneous in nature and ranged from below detection to 104cells cm-3. Bacterial 16S rRNA genes from core samples and enrichment incubations are dominated by lineages putatively carrying out hydrocarbon oxidation and nitrogen, sulfur and metal redox processes. Samples from two different seamounts were statistically different, indicating some degree of biogeography. Archaea were not detected via quantitative polymerase chain reaction, indicating they are rare in the Louisville subsurface. Taken together, the data indicate that microbial life is indeed present in subseafloor igneous basement >65 Ma, which significantly expands the range of the subseafloor biosphere where microbial life is known to exist.Impact StatementThe aquifer in subseafloor igneous basement is the largest continuous microbial substrate on Earth, but it is difficult to access and therefore understudied. We here collected samples from the Louisville Seamount Chain using seafloor drilling to determine if microbial life exists in the >65 Ma subseafloor basement made at these seamounts. A low biomass environment dominated by Bacteria potentially capable of using the Fe and S inherent in subseafloor basalt was detected, including Bacteria that were revived in enrichment experiments. This discovery expands the range of seafloor where confirmed microbial life exists and indicates the interior of seamounts is habitable.

author list (cited authors)

  • Sylvan, J. B., Tully, B. J., Morono, Y., Alt, J. C., Grim, S. L., Inagaki, F., Koppers, A., & Edwards, K. J.

complete list of authors

  • Sylvan, Jason B||Tully, Benjamin J||Morono, Yuki||Alt, Jeffrey C||Grim, Sharon L||Inagaki, Fumio||Koppers, Anthony AP||Edwards, Katrina J

Book Title

  • bioRxiv

publication date

  • November 2023