Eukaryotic opportunists dominate the deep-subsurface biosphere in South Africa

G. Borgonie, B. Linage-Alvarez, A. O. Ojo, S. O.C. Mundle, L. B. Freese, C. Van Rooyen, O. Kuloyo, J. Albertyn, C. Pohl, E. D. Cason, J. Vermeulen, C. Pienaar, D. Litthauer, H. Van Niekerk, J. Van Eeden, B. Sherwood Lollar, Tullis C. Onstott, E. Van Heerden

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49 Scopus citations


Following the discovery of the first Eukarya in the deep subsurface, intense interest has developed to understand the diversity of eukaryotes living in these extreme environments. We identified that Platyhelminthes, Rotifera, Annelida and Arthropoda are thriving at 1.4km depths in palaeometeoric fissure water up to 12,300yr old in South African mines. Protozoa and Fungi have also been identified; however, they are present in low numbers. Characterization of the different species reveals that many are opportunistic organisms with an origin due to recharge from surface waters rather than soil leaching. This is the first known study to demonstrate the in situ distribution of biofilms on fissure rock faces using video documentation. Calculations suggest that food, not dissolved oxygen is the limiting factor for eukaryal population growth. The discovery of a group of Eukarya underground has important implications for the search for life on other planets in our solar system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8952
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - Nov 24 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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