FROM DEEP IN THE EARTH, REVELATIONS OF LIFE
By Kathy Sawyer
The Washington Post | April 6, 1997, pg. A01
They are as alien as anything imaginable. They thrive above boiling-hot vents on the deep-sea floor, and thousands of feet below the polar ice, and more than 9,000 feet beneath Virginia’s topsoil. They can swim in acid, eat sulfur and draw energy from rock. They have captivated some of the world’s best minds.
Meet the extremophiles. They are a vast population of microscopic creatures that inhabit otherworldly realms beneath Earth’s surface where, until 20 years ago, scientists assumed no life could survive. Now, aided by newly available Cold War military technologies, researchers are churning up one revelation after another about their bizarre character. This work is transforming science and shattering old assumptions about the nature of life, the ease with which life arises and where it might exist—not only on Earth but on other worlds.
”We’re in a major discovery mode. This is going to tell us about the origin of organisms, the origins of life, the evolution of organisms and what sorts of metabolic processes could occur on other planets,” said John Baross of the University of Washington in Seattle, who in the 1980s led the discovery of extremophile communities living in superheated waters spewing from so-called deep-sea smokers. “This is a total revolution in microbiology, a total revolution. . . ”