“Bold Traveler” Microbe Makes its Own Ecosystem Nearly Two Miles Underground

The Science

From 2.8 kilometers deep in the Mponeng Mine in South Africa a novel microbe has been found that reduces sulfates and fixes carbon and nitrogen apparently in the absence of any other form of life, comprising by itself, the first known single-species ecosystem. In the October 10 issue of Science, researchers Terry Hazen and Adam Arkin at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, with colleagues from other DOE labs and several academic institutions, describe the discovery, DNA sequence, and initial characterization of microbe. Named Desulforudis audaxviator, or “Bold Traveler” in a reference to Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, this microbe exploits hydrogen and sulfate produced by the radioactive decay of uranium. Its genome sequence, determined at the DOE-Joint Genome Institute, revealed greater genetic diversity than expected given the homogeneity and stability of its environment. Significantly, its genome contains genes equipping it to get carbon (and energy) from carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, bicarbonate, formate, and other nonbiological sources that may provide useful biological capacities for future bioenergy developments.

Principal Investigator

Dylan Chivian

BER Program Manager

Ramana Madupu

U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Biological Systems Science Division
[email protected]


Chivian, D., et al. 2008. “Environmental Genomics Reveals a Single-Species Ecosystem Deep Within Earth,” Science 322(5899), 275-8. DOI:10.1126/science.1155495