New ecosystems in the deep subsurface follow the flow of water driven by geological activity

G. Borgonie, C. Magnabosco, A. García-Moyano, B. Linage-Alvarez, A. O. Ojo, L. B. Freese, C. Van Jaarsveld, C. Van Rooyen, O. Kuloyo, E. D. Cason, J. Vermeulen, C. Pienaar, E. Van Heerden, B. Sherwood Lollar, Tullis C. Onstott, S. O.C. Mundle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Eukarya have been discovered in the deep subsurface at several locations in South Africa, but how organisms reach the subsurface remains unknown. We studied river-subsurface fissure water systems and identified Eukarya from a river that are genetically identical for 18S rDNA. To further confirm that these are identical species one metazoan species recovered from the overlying river interbred successfully with specimen recovered from an underlying mine at −1.4 km. In situ seismic simulation experiments were carried out and show seismic activity to be a major force increasing the hydraulic conductivity in faults allowing organisms to create ecosystems in the deep subsurface. As seismic activity is a non-selective force we recovered specimen of algae and Insecta that defy any obvious other explanation at a depth of −3.4 km. Our results show there is a steady flow of surface organisms to the deep subsurface where some survive and adapt and others perish. As seismic activity is also present on other planets and moons in our solar system the mechanism elucidated here may be relevant for future search and selection of landing sites in planetary exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3310
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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