Mussels from Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents Use Hydrogen as a Fuel Source

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Extensive research has gone into figuring out how to harness hydrogen as a fuel source for cars and homes, and a new discovery has found a way that nature does it.  Nicole Dubilier of the Max Planck Institute of Marine Microbiology led the team of researchers at the Logatchev hydrothermal vent field located 3,000 meters--almost 10,000 feet--below sea level.

As the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft reports, mussels were found to have a special give-and-take relationship with bacteria that use hydrogen as a fuel source. Hydrothermal vents, which were discovered just thirty years ago, occur when the ocean floor is pulled apart by the movement of tectonic plates.  Water that comes into contact with the magma bubbling up between these plates can heat to 400 degrees Celsius, and the rising hot water delivers dissolved minerals from the earth’s crust to the rest of the ocean.  These inorganic compounds are oxidized by microbes in a process known as chemosynthesis, fueling life where sunlight cannot. It was previously known that these microbes could oxidize the sulfide in hydrogen sulfide, but now research has found that some of these bacteria are able to use the hydrogen as well.

The deep-sea mussel Bathymodiolus puteoserpentis is one of the most prevalent species at Logatchev, where they cover hundreds of square meters of ocean floor.  Deep-sea submersibles were used to sample these mussels and run experiments that showed that they were consuming hydrogen.  Inspection back at the surface revealed that there is a bacteria that lives in the gills of these mussels that can use hydrogen as an energy source, just as we hope to do someday.

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