Bacteria living in isolation in the deep sea may be gaining useful new genes from a sticky mixture falling like snow through the oceans, say researchers today (Wednesday 12 September 2001) speaking at the bi-annual meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of East Anglia.

“The flakes of marine snow are made up of the debris from tiny plants and animals called plankton held together with sugary mucus” says Dr Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK. “As well as providing food, these clumps also contain active bacteria which can go into a sort of suspended animation in the high pressures and cold temperatures of the deep ocean”.

“We have calculated that a thousand billion live bacteria successfully make the trip from the surface to every square metre of the ocean floor every year. They bring different genes to the otherwise isolated bacteria on the deep sea bed, giving the two populations of bacteria a chance to exchange genes” says Dr Turley.

The deep ocean covers 60% of the earth’s surface and previously scientists thought that bacteria surviving at these enormous pressures and depths, in total darkness, were very isolated from most other bacteria occurring at the surface of the oceans. The new findings suggest that a much wider range of bacteria may exist at the bottom of the deepest seas than previously thought, offering commercial and scientific opportunities.

“Now we have worked out that they may be able to get new genes along with a food source from this marine snow” says Dr Carol Turley. “We realise that there could be undiscovered species of bacteria capable of working in high pressures or extreme cold which could be very useful in bioengineering or in pharmaceutical products”.

Notes for Editors

Dr Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth UK, is giving a conference presentation on Wednesday 12 September 2001 at 11.05hrs on
‘C. Manna from heaven: algal-bacterial coupling in the deep-sea’
To contact Dr Carol Turley telephone: Tel: +44(0)175 263 3464, Fax: +44(0)175 263 3101, email:

For further information contact Dr Tracey Duncombe at the SGM office tel: +44(0)118 988 1843, out of hours telephone +44(0)118 986 8061, mobile telephone +44(0)79 2939 4363, Fax: +44(0)118 988 5656, E-mail:

Full programme details of this meeting can be found on the Society’s website at: Hard copies are available on request from the SGM. Journalists are welcome to attend the meeting free of charge. Please contact Tracey Duncombe to register.

During the conference Tracey Duncombe can be contacted from 9/09/01 to 13/09/01 on +44(0)1603 593 278 or mobile tel: +44(0)79 2939 4363. Journalists are welcome to attend the meeting free of charge. Please contact Tracey Duncombe to register.

The Society for General Microbiology is the largest microbiology society in Europe, and has over 5,500 members world-wide. The Society provides a common meeting ground for scientists working in research and in fields with applications in microbiology including medicine, veterinary medicine, pharmaceuticals, industry, agriculture, food, the environment and education. The Society for General Microbiology represents the science and profession of microbiology to government, the media and the general public; supporting microbiology education at all levels; and encouraging careers in microbiology.


Dr Tracey Duncombe
Society for General Microbiology
0118 988 1843