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WHOI researchers, collaborators receive $1.4 million grant to study life in ocean's greatest depths
Date:3/27/2012

d supply in the trenches, which means it can support more and potentially highly-diverse life forms," Shank said. In addition to sampling these species and imaging the terrain they live in, the HADES team plans to analyze their DNA to begin to unravel how they have evolved the ability to survive in such an extreme environment.

The team plans to examine the food supplies, energetic demands, and metabolic rates of trench organisms to determine the role they play in biological structure of trench ecosystems. Jeffrey Drazen from the University of Hawaii will lead the program's efforts in this area.

"The energy requirements of hadal animals have never been measured before," said Drazen. "Some deep-sea animal groups have 10-fold lower metabolic rates than shallow living species. Metabolic data will help us understand how food supply regulates the distribution and density of hadal animals, which can help us put together a picture of the flow of energy throughout the food web."

Since pressure in the hadal zone can reach more than 16,000 pounds per square inch, the team will also examine the mechanisms that trench species have evolved to cope with the extreme force.

Exactly how these animals withstand intense pressures is not completely known, but scientists are putting together pieces of the evolutionary puzzle. Paul Yancey, HADES program collaborator from Whitman College, noted that although extreme hydrostatic pressure can inhibit the activity of proteins, small molecules called piezolytes may be able to protect proteins from the pressure. Yancey plans to investigate the role that piezolytes play in the adaptation of trench animals.

"Pressure might very well be the primary factor determining what species can live in Hadal zones," Yancey said. "High hydrostatic pressure in essence inhibits and distorts biomolecules like enzymes and other proteins. One way this happens is that pressure traps dense layers of water molecules around proteins, making it ha
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