Lead author Alta Howells (left), co-author Alysia Cox (standing right) and co-author James Leong (seated) take a gas sample for H2 analysis, review field notes and analyze aqueous chemistry on a spectrophotometer in Oman for this study. IMAGE CREDIT: KIRT ROBINSON/ASU.

A team of astrobiologists supported by the NASA Astrobiology Program have recently studied organisms known as hydrogenotrophs in hypersaline fluids in the mountains of Oman. Hydrogenotrophs are organisms that can get energy by metabolizing molecular hydrogen, and could help astrobiologists understand mechanisms that life might use to survive on other worlds.

The research team studied microorganisms that live in the sediment beneath pools of fluids that have been involved in a process known as serpentinization. This is a geological process by which rocks are altered when they interact with water. At the site in Oman, serpentinization leaves behind hypersaline fluids rich in hydrogen. The team was able to map the distribution of microorganisms living along the gradient of hydrogen produced in the environment.

The study, “Energetically Informed Niche Models of Hydrogenotrophs Detected in Sediments of Serpentinized Fluids of the Samail Ophiolite of Oman,” was published in the journal JGR Biogeosciences. 

A press release concerning this research is available from Arizona State University (ASU) at: https://news.asu.edu/20220425-scientists-study-microorganisms-earth-gain-insight-life-other-planets