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Deep Biosphere


The pore space in sediments as well as fractures in magmatic or metamorphic rocks forms a giant ecosystems that spans around the entire globe. Despite its large size we still have very little knowledge about the microbes in this environment, their metabolic capabilities and their interaction with their geologic surrounding and the surface world.

Life in this so-called Deep Biosphere deviates from surface life in many aspects. Microbes have to adjust to the extreme nutrient limitation and other extreme chemical and physical conditions in these environments. Cell density in the deep biosphere is usually much lower than at the surface, moreover do the cells have a much lower metabolic rate. Such conditions make analyses of such samples so technically challenging. As many microbiological standard techniques are not sensitive enough, one of the key aspects of our work is the development of more sensitive analytical techniques.

Usually drilling is required to get access to uncontaminated samples from the Deep Biosphere. Additional to our own drilling operations that we carry out in collaboration with other groups from GFZ, we are also involved in projects of the two scientific drilling programs, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and the International Continental Drilling Program (ICDP).

Scientific key questions

  • Which and how many microbes make up the microbial community in the Deep Biosphere and how did they adapt to the environmental conditions?
  • Which metabolic processes occur in the Deep Biosphere and at what rates?
  • What are the interactions between the Deep Biosphere and the surrounding Geosphere?

Study sites

  • Lake Towuti, Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • West Papua, Indonesia
  • Eger Rift Gebiet, Czech Republic
  • Nankai Trough, Japan


Partners (selected)

Prof. Sean Crowe, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Prof. Daniel Ariztegui, Université de Geneve, Geneva, Switzerland

Dr. Fumio Inagaki, JAMSTEC, Yokohama, Japan

Dr. Yuki Morono, JAMSTEC, Kochi, Japan

Prof. Steven D’Hondt, University of Rhode Island, USA

Prof. Bo Barker Jørgensen, Arhus University, Denmark

Dr. Verena Heuer, MARUM, Bremen, Germany

Prof. William Orsi, Ludwigs Maximilliam Universität, München, Germany

Prof. Liane Benning, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ), Germany

Dr. Kai Mangelsdorf, Deutsches GeoForschungsZentrum (GFZ), Germany

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