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November 30, 2014

United States

California—Thermal Vent Shrimp


Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are studying the world's deepest (2,300 to 4,900 meters) hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean to get clues about what life could be like on other planetary bodies, such as Jupiter's icy moon Europa, which has a subsurface ocean.


At the vents, tiny shrimp (Rimicaris hybisae) are piled on top of each other, layer upon layer, crawling on rock chimneys that spew hot water.  Bacteria, inside the shrimps' mouths and in specially evolved gill covers, produce organic matter that they feed on.


The shrimp seem to have different dietary habits depending on the proximity of other shrimp. Those who live in dense clusters live off bacteria primarily, but in areas where the shrimp are distributed more sparsely, the shrimp are more likely to turn carnivorous, eating snails and each other.  


The particular bacteria in the vents are able to survive in extreme environments because of chemosynthesis, a process that works in the absence of sunlight and involves organisms getting energy from chemical reactions.


In this case, the bacteria use hydrogen sulfide, a chemical abundant at the vents, to make organic matter.  The temperatures at the vents can climb up to a scorching 750 degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius), but waters just an inch away are cool enough to support the shrimp.  The shrimp are blind, but have thermal receptors in the backs of their heads.


Source:  Extreme Shrimp May Hold Clues to Alien Life.  Elizabeth Landau.  November 24, 2014.

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