Thursday, May 29, 2008

Huge Biomass Discovered - Shoggoth, Ubbo-Sathla

This post somewhat references my previous post War of the Worlds, where I ventured into the microscopic world of micro-organisms. In that post, I played H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds against macro-organisms and micro-organisms. And several very clever readers pointed out that the connection between the topic and content of Wells' novel and microscopic organisms is a specious. That is true, and it was my intention - and it'll be repeated here again. :)

True, there is no "war" between bacteria, fungi, viruses (viri)and humans. But I'm casting in that light because it seems, for the most part, we ignore the things unseen. Think of how many times people come in contact with bacteria, and rather than wash their hands, they simply ignore the unseen germs, maybe rub their palms against their pants, or just go on. For the most part, micro-organisms seem too small to be a real threat. So, I'm trying to cast them in a new paradigm, although they are not thinking or have no intent (unless you're seen the recent remain of the Andromeda Strain - it's War of the Worlds against bacteria).

With my intent out of the way, let me get to the point. Recently a large biomass of bacteria was discovered off the coast of Newfoundland. It is described as "huge," and it was found 1.6 kilometers beneath the sea floor. Adding to the excitement, this huge biomass survives temperatures reaching 100 °C. But before anyone cries "Cthulhu," note that is it an amorphous mass. This makes it a better fit with an escaped shoggoth or Ubbo-Sathla (if you don't know what those things are, just ask).

As reported by the New Scientist:

The discovery marks the deepest living cells ever to be found beneath the sea floor. Bacteria have been found deeper underneath the continents, but there they are rare. In comparison, the rocks beneath the sea appear to be teeming with life.

Here is an exciting image using fluorescent staining to reveal a living cell in green.

It seems this biomass has survived under sea floor sediment for possibly 111 million years. The article explains that at such depths and pressure, cell division is slowed greatly, and some of the single cell bacteria might be over 100 million years old. Of course, samples are being pulled to the surface for further investigation (oh what fun writers can have with that).

Some of the researchers have speculated that this bacteria might even be extra terrestrial. Most everyone knows of the theories about bacteria traveling on comets or meteors, and in some cases hitting the earth, and maybe even spawning life (this theory is sometimes termed Panasperma). And if this were the case, then bacteria have been space travelers long before humanity existed.

Also, Steve pointed out in a comment on the previous "War of the Worlds" post, that humans live in a symbiotic state with a host of bacteria. Many people have a horde of viruses residing in their bodies, causing no harm - either because of immunity, or because the virus is harmless. However, what I'm attempting to foster in our imaginations is that these micro-organisms are struggling to survive, and often the macro-organisms (humans for example) are struggling to survive, and therein rests the conflict. Richard Dawkins wrote a illuminating text titled The Selfish Gene which investigates the innate desire to live in most every organism, which he postulates is probably why so many survive. Without the drive, without the selfish desire to exist, life probably wouldn't exist (and that doesn't mean that bacteria and such actually have desires; rather, Dawkins is referring to something like a genetic program for survival). And yes, he uses "selfish" to shed a different light on something we tend to overlook.

Lastly, a number of scientists propose that there might be more biomasses in the depths of the ocean than there are on the surfaces of the Earth's landmasses. That's quite a bit of selfish micro-organisms sitting around, just waiting to be discovered and exploited by humans and human technology. Sure, it might not be a war; rather, it could simply result in the thoughtless, uncaring genocide of macro-organisms. After all, humans are the only ones who wage war with purpose, and war always requires a purpose - history has taught us that much (read sarcasm there).


Charles Gramlich said...

That's very cool. I'm going to go look up more on this on the net. I remember the excitement when scientists in "Oregan or Washington" I think discovered a huge fungus under the earth that was so huge that it became the largest living organism on earth. Definitely there are still some strange life to be discovered right here on earth. Would be cool if they turned out to be extraterrestrial, but I'm doubting that.

John Goodrich said...

Ubbo-Sathla, clearly.

And we're poking it with a stick. How frikkin' smart are we?

Heather said...

Honestly I don't know the difference between a shoggoth and an ubbo.

I'm with you guys on this. Let's NOT wake up the giant thing at the bottom of the ocean!

Steve Buchheit said...

My thought is it's an old shoggoth that has forgotten itself. If it is Ubbo-Sathla, I say we find those tablets 'cause we're gonna need them if we go to Mars.

Brook said...

One way to tell a Shoggoth from Ubbo... most Shoggoth aren't continually shrugging off children. And remember, Father's Day is coming up. Maybe we should send a card and a tie?

Amanda said...

This is really weird stuff. Imagine if it all formed something larger or could infect humans. I remember Caley ripping all over town on a bunch of infected creatures. It was something like this but from a cave.

William Jones said...

Charles - I was reminded of the giant "shroom" as well. You're right, regardless of how it came to be, it is fascinating any way. Naturally, extraterrestrial would be very exciting, although I'm not sure how it could be proved.

John - Isn't that human nature? Find something and then find a stick. :)

Heather - Brook has a point about the Shoggoth and Ubbo-Sathla. But then, maybe this thing is spawning young.

And, if we wake it up, maybe we have a new Cloverfield film.

Steve - Perhaps an escaped shoggoth from an Elder Things city. Could be it's hiding out, waiting for that right moment to spring . . . or splash . . . or ooze.

Brook - Gifts to the monster in the deep. There is a film if I've ever seen one!

Amanda - That's a good call. I did have Caley Faith Dayton encounter such a critter in a story. And actually, I had removed the original name, "Ubbo-Sathla" from that story (it latter appeared in Lovecraft's Legacy with the name). And I do share your concern about bacteria we no little about (of course that is how we learn). But as this is the stuff of fiction, many worries to come forward.

Brook said...

If you're really worried about the old made new again:
. Bacteria Found Alive In Ice 120,000 Years Old (
. Authentic Viking DNA From 1,000-Year-Old Skeletons (