Scientists discover sulfur-eating microbes at Tonga volcano eruption site

(ORDO NEWS) — Biologists studied the microbes that settled in the place of the eruption of the Tonga volcano.

In 2015, an underwater volcano erupted in the South Pacific, forming the island of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai.

This gives researchers the opportunity to study the first microbial colonizers of the newly formed land mass. Specialists collected biological samples on site, packed and sent to their university.

There, biologists conducted DNA sequencing of microbes and analyzed their characteristics and species composition.

“These types of volcanic eruptions occur all over the world, but usually do not form islands.

We had a unique opportunity,” explains Nick Dragon, one of the authors of the work. “No one has ever studied microorganisms in an early island system before.”

Studying the microbes that colonize the islands for the first time provides a glimpse into the earliest stage of ecosystem development, before plants and animals appeared.

“We thought that we would see organisms that can be found when the glacier retreats, or cyanobacteria – more typical types of early colonizers.

Instead, we discovered a unique group of bacteria that metabolize sulfur and atmospheric gases,” the authors explain. This makes them look like microbes that live in hot springs.


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