Published on 01 Apr 2022

Living on the Edge: Microbial Life under Extreme Deep-Sea Conditions

IAS@NTU Discovery Science Seminar by Associate Professor Federico Lauro

The webinar, held on 23 March 2022, was jointly organised by IAS NTU and the Graduate Students’ Clubs SPMS, SCBE and SBS.

Gradients of physicochemical factors determine to a great extent the growth rate and survival of bacteria in the deep sea. One could speculate that the genetic modifications required to adapt to specific depth zones should be substantial. However, there is still a limited understanding of the drivers of microbial evolution to abyssal (>4000m depth) and hadal (>6000m depth) zones and the specific hallmarks of adaptation in environmental sequences from the deep sea. 

In this webinar,  Prof Federico Lauro (Asian School of the Environment, NTU; Principal Investigator, Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering) introduced microbial life under deep-sea conditions and discussed some of the recent advances in the field and the importance of studying microbial ecology in basic science, exploration, and conservation of abyssal and hadal environments.

In our conventional thoughts, life in the deep sea will have some changes in certain aspects. However, Prof Federico showed us that the impact of deep-sea environment on life is far more extensive and far-reaching than we think. You can see the adaption in almost every aspect, plasma membrane phase transition, actin polymerisation, hydrophilic-to-hydrophobic residue mutations in proteins to reduce pressure-caused enthalpic penalty… you name it. This vivid deep-sea life world stresses the word “adaption” and spreads the power of life. 

Prof Federico thought implementing different methods is important for research. His work combines both experimental trials and computational skills. He took them as complementary skills for finding the very answers. He also emphasised the importance of collaboration. In his projects, we can see parts from molecular level, such as the structural analysis, to macro level, such as the ocean circulation. Every segment was carried out by different collaborators at their fields, making the whole work splendid and hierarchical. 

Prof Federico also mentioned that global warming has extreme effects on human life and microbial undersea.  Collaboration between scientists is necessary to meet growing global issues.

Zeng Wu (SCBE Graduate Students’ Club) and Hu Zixin (SBS Graduate Students’ Club)