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Microbe Understudies Await Their Turn in the Limelight

On the marine microbial stage, there appears to be a vast, varied group of understudies only too ready to step in when "star" microbes falter.

At least that's what happens at the Lost City hydrothermal vent field, according to work led by the University of Washington and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Lost City hydrothermal vent field in the mid-Atlantic Ocean is the only one of its kind found thus far. It offers scientists access to microorganisms living in vents that range in age from newly formed to tens of thousands of years old. A bit player found in scant numbers in the younger, more active vents became the lead actor in a chimney more than 1,000 years old where venting has moderated and cooled, changing the ecosystem.

This is the first evidence that microorganisms can remain rare for such a long time before completely turning the tables to become dominant when ecosystems change, according to William Brazelton, a University of Washington postdoctoral researcher. It seems logical, but until recently, scientists weren't able to detect microorganisms at such low abundance, Brazelton says.
 
 

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