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Slo-mo microbes extend the frontiers of life

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Community in the deep seabed uses so little oxygen that it is no longer clear where the lower bound for life lies.

Most humans would struggle to last for much more than a minute under water without coming up for air, whereas some seals can manage more than an hour — but a microbial community living tens of metres beneath the Pacific Ocean floor can do even better.

Using so little oxygen that they barely qualify as life, the microbes, discovered by Hans Røy and his colleagues of the Centre for Geomicrobiology at Aarhus University in Denmark, have exceptionally low metabolic rates. And biomass turnover — the replacement of the building blocks essential to life — occurs only once every few hundred or even every few thousand years.

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