- Sogin, Mitchell Prof.
The Deep Life Community (DLC), which explores the evolutionary and functional diversity of Earth’s deep biosphere and its interactions with the carbon cycle, embraces three primary Decadal Goals: 1) Determine the processes that define the diversity and distribution of deep life as it relates to the carbon cycle; 2) Determine the environmental limits of deep life; and 3) Determine the interactions between deep life and carbon cycling. This proposal, led by DL co-Chairs Mitchell L. Sogin (Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, USA) and Kai-Uwe Hinrichs (University of Bremen, Germany) employs a multi-faceted strategy that will continue ongoing work to map the abundance, diversity and function of subsurface marine and continental microorganisms in both space and time, and thus contribute to meeting the decadal goals of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO). To achieve these goals we seek to expand the size and scope of the DLC by focusing efforts on improving deep life detection capabilities, investigating the flow of carbon from carbonaceous materials into deep life, and investigating the nature of intricate rock/life interactions. Two initiatives form major focal points for the Deep Life Community. The first involves a competition to support new pilot projects, travel to field sites, synthesis workshops and efforts to develop new grant applications to other agencies and foundations. The second activity provides resources for Phase II of the Census of Deep Life (CoDL). These research initiatives will leverage DLC’s investment in conducting a global census over time and space for all three domains of life and viruses in both the marine and continental subsurface. Through omics we seek to explore mechanisms that shape microbial evolution and dispersal in the deep biosphere and to identify the ecological rules that shape community structures. Studies of the environmental limits of life employ a combination of laboratory and field experiments to determine physical and chemical extremes that are compatible with life. These measurements will inform modeling studies and potentially will provide clues about differences between the biotic/abiotic interface that may have played a role in the origins of life. Finally, Deep Life will explore patterns and mechanisms of biotically-mediated carbon transformations in the subsurface and the interaction of these processes with the surface world.
Soon after receiving funding for this initiative in December, 2013, the Deep Life Steering Committee announced the first call for pilot project proposals and subsequently met in early January to review pilot project proposals and discuss strategies for advancing studies of deep life. The selection criteria required that pilot projects must a) address unresolved questions related to deep life and its decadal goals; b) must identify the potential for attracting additional funding resources, and c) must conclude within a six-month time-frame. Successful proposals would likely leverage other funding, foster collaborative science, support synthesis of knowledge across the different themes, support projects too risky for funding agencies, and enhance international programs and collaborations. To date, we have selected 14 pilot projects for funding at an average level of $20,000/award over 6 month performance periods. The first projects started in March of 2014 and have begun to show positive outcomes as outlined by ongoing descriptions of Deep Life Activity on the DCO web site.