Life is no cake walk at the ocean floor, where carbon is scarce and light nonexistent. At least near deep ocean vents, mineral-rich water bubbles up from magma beneath the crust, providing both heat and a source of energy. In these alien environments, lithotrophs- bacteria that eat minerals instead of organic carbon- have staked out a niche by evolving some creative metabolic strategies.
But minerals are a poor source of energy compared to organic matter. Lithotrophs are slow-growing critters, easily outcompeted when carbon is abundant. They need all the help they can get. And it turns out, they might very well get help… from an unlikely source. A study published last week in Science express reports how viruses may be helping deep marine bacteria eat sulfur.
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