Article open access publication

Exploring deep microbial life in coal-bearing sediment down to ~2.5 km below the ocean floor

Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), ISSN 0036-8075

Volume 349, 6246, 2015

DOI:10.1126/science.aaa6882, Dimensions: pub.1062665369, PMID: 26206933,



  1. (1) Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, grid.410588.0
  2. (2) University of Bremen, grid.7704.4
  3. (3) Oregon State University, grid.4391.f
  4. (4) Aarhus University, grid.7048.b, AU
  5. (5) J. Craig Venter Institute, grid.469946.0
  6. (6) Geological Survey of Japan, grid.466781.a
  7. (7) University of Aberdeen, grid.7107.1
  8. (8) Department of Applied Geosciences and Geophysics, Montanuniversität, 8700 Leoben, Austria.
  9. (9) University of Birmingham, grid.6572.6
  10. (10) National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, grid.208504.b
  11. (11) Nanjing University, grid.41156.37
  12. (12) Kōchi University, grid.278276.e
  13. (13) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, grid.116068.8
  14. (14) Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, grid.410882.7
  15. (15) University of New Hampshire, grid.167436.1
  16. (16) University of Nebraska–Lincoln, grid.24434.35
  17. (17) University of California, Riverside, grid.266097.c
  18. (18) University of Rhode Island, grid.20431.34
  19. (19) Rice University, grid.21940.3e
  20. (20) University of Queensland, grid.1003.2
  21. (21) Marine Works Japan, Yokosuka 237-0063, Japan.
  22. (22) Chiba University, grid.136304.3
  23. (23) California Institute of Technology, grid.20861.3d


Microbial life inhabits deeply buried marine sediments, but the extent of this vast ecosystem remains poorly constrained. Here we provide evidence for the existence of microbial communities in ~40° to 60°C sediment associated with lignite coal beds at ~1.5 to 2.5 km below the seafloor in the Pacific Ocean off Japan. Microbial methanogenesis was indicated by the isotopic compositions of methane and carbon dioxide, biomarkers, cultivation data, and gas compositions. Concentrations of indigenous microbial cells below 1.5 km ranged from <10 to ~10(4) cells cm(-3). Peak concentrations occurred in lignite layers, where communities differed markedly from shallower subseafloor communities and instead resembled organotrophic communities in forest soils. This suggests that terrigenous sediments retain indigenous community members tens of millions of years after burial in the seabed.


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Times Cited: 181

Field Citation Ratio (FCR): 29.31

Relative Citation ratio (RCR): 5.37

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