The creatures from the deep sounds like a haunting Halloween movie plot but it is the reality scientists discovered. Using custom-built cameras, researchers recently found four-inch-long, gigantic amoebas in the Mariana Trench — the deepest part of the ocean.
Plumping the ocean’s deepest area with a drop camera, the team from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego spotted the xenophyophores in the cold, deep water a staggering 6.6 miles below the surface.
“They are fascinating giants that are highly adapted to extreme conditions but at the same time are very fragile and poorly studied,” said Lisa Levin, a deep-sea biologist and director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation.
Known as some of the largest individual-celled organisms in existence, xenophyophores can grow up to four inches. Research has shown through trapping particles from water, they can concentrate high levels of lead, uranium and mercury and are therefore likely highly resistant to large doses of heavy metals. They are also well suited for living in the dark water, low temperatures and high pressure of the deepest parts of the sea.
To reach the bottom of the ocean trench, special equipment was developed. Levin worked with Eric Berkenpas and Graham Wilhelm — Remote Imaging engineers from the National Geographic Society — to build and launch “dropcams.”
Using HD cameras and a thick-walled glass sphere, the team was able to build a camera that could be lowered to the bottom of the sea and capture images under the high pressure under the entire weight of the ocean. At the depth of 6.6 miles the water above can cause more than eight tons per square inch of pressure.
Life is surprisingly abundant at these extreme depths, despite the cold and pressure. According to Dhugal Lindsay of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, the Dropcam movie also depicts the deepest jellyfish observed to date.
[via Discovery News]