Microbial Processes at Deep Sea Hydrothermal Vents

  • Holger W. Jannasch
Part of the NATO Conference Series book series (NATOCS, volume 12)


The primary production of organic carbon by chemosynthetic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria has been proposed to provide the base of the food chain for the extensive populations of animals found at hydrothermal vents at depths of about 2600 m. The oxidation of reduced inorganic compounds (such as H2S, S0, S2O 3 2− , NH 4 + , NO 2 2− , Fe2+ and possibly Mn2+) as the source of energy for chemosynthesis is equivalent to the role of light in photosynthesis. Reported here is the present state of proof of this hypothesis which includes the work of many collaborating scientists. Epifluorescence microscopy and nucleotide determinations demonstrated substantial bacterial densities in the emitted vent waters. Multi-layered mats of unicellular bacteria were observed, often encased in heavy Mn/Fe deposits, as well as assemblages of Leucothrix/Thiothrix-like filaments and others resembling trichomes of apochlorotic cyanobacteria. Masses of Beggiatoa filaments were found on artificial surfaces deposited near the vents for 10 months. Species of the genera Thiomicrospira, Thiobacillus and Hyphomonas have been isolated and studied in detail. Furthermore, an anaerobically chemosynthetic, extremely thermophilic, methanogenic bacterium was isolated as well as a number of “Type I” methylotrophic bacteria oxidizing methane and methylamine. The gills of bivalves, collected from areas intermittently flushed with H2S-containing vent water and oxygenated ambient seawater, contained masses of bacteria showing high activities of sulfur metabolism and Calvin-Benson cycle enzymes. Likewise the “trophosome” tissue of the gutless tube worm Riftia was found to consist of procaryotic cells exhibiting ATP-generating and CO2-reducing activity. Thus, three locations of chemosynthetic production are proposed: (1) within the subsurface vent system at elevated temperatures, (2) in microbial mats in the immediate surrounding of the vents, and (3) in various symbiotic associations with invertebrates. It appears that the predominant chemosynthetic production, in combination with the most efficient transfer of organic carbon to the vent animals, occurs via symbiosis.


Hydrogen Sulfide Microbial Process Hydrothermal Vent Giant Clam Tube Worm 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Holger W. Jannasch
    • 1
  1. 1.Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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