Giant one-celled organisms discovered over six miles below the ocean's surface

Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com
October 23, 2011



Imagine a one-celled organism the size of a mango. It's not science fiction, but fact: scientists have cataloged dozens of giant one-celled creatures, around 4 inches (10 centimeters), in the deep abysses of the world's oceans. But recent exploration of the Mariana Trench has uncovered the deepest record yet of the one-celled behemoths, known as xenophyophores.

Found at 6.6 miles beneath the ocean's surface, the xenophyophores beats the previous record by nearly two miles. The Mariana Trench xenophyophores were discovered by dropcams, developed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and National Geographic, which are unmanned HD cameras 'dropped' into the deep ocean to record life at the bottom.

Xenophyophore in the Galapagos Rift
Xenophyophore in the Galapagos Rift. Photo by: NOAA.
Previous research has shown that xenophyophores are host to a number of multicellular organisms, meaning that the Mariana Trench could be teeming with life.

"The identification of these gigantic cells in one of the deepest marine environments on the planet opens up a whole new habitat for further study of biodiversity, biotechnological potential and extreme environment adaptation," says Doug Bartlett, the Scripps marine microbiologist who organized the Mariana Trench expedition, in a press release.

Xenophyophores are the largest known single cells, and have been found in great abundance on the sea floor. But given their fragility and deep-water lives, they are incredibly difficult to study and much of their natural history remains mysterious to scientists.


Close-ups of xenophyophores obtained on previous expeditions. Photo credit: Lisa Levin (all except upper right, credit David Checkley)
"As one of very few taxa found exclusively in the deep sea, the xenophyophores are emblematic of what the deep sea offers. They are fascinating giants that are highly adapted to extreme conditions but at the same time are very fragile and poorly studied," explains Lisa Levin, director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. "These and many other structurally important organisms in the deep sea need our stewardship as human activities move to deeper waters."















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CITATION:
Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (October 23, 2011).

Giant one-celled organisms discovered over six miles below the ocean's surface.

http://news.mongabay.com/2011/1023-hance_xenophyophores.html