The very deepest spots of the sea are one of the planet’s last true frontiers. The reason lies in a lack of support for needed technological advancements and vehicles has severely limited access to depths beyond 7,000 meters.
But the situation is finally showing some change, and SOI is helping to push the process forward. In November, the institute collaborated with a group of biologists and geologists working aboard R/V Falkor to hold a new study on one of the deepest spots on earth.
The work, at depths down to almost 11,000 meters, will find answers for the enduring questions about the biosphere of such alien zones, including what resides deep down there and how they survive the massive pressure. The research should also improve understanding of the processes that control earthquake and tsunami formation, among other geological goals.
Only four vehicles are in operation that could safely work at full ocean depth and none are currently in execution. Work with this type of equipment has been critical—indeed SOI returned to the Mariana Trench in December of 2014 on a second lander project.
Working with samples caught in traps they also analysed and done a study on the biochemical adaptations that allow animals to survive the crushing pressures in deep trenches, in particular, whether these animals have some distinct compounds to protect proteins in their cells from folding improperly under the crushing pressure. One of the compounds researchers has discovered that seems to help some trench dwellers withstand hadal pressure was discovered elsewhere and is being pursued as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s, which involves problems with protein folding in the brain. Other compounds discovered in the trenches might fresh to science and could offer similar potential medical or other greater benefits.
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