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Trends Microbiol. 2005 Sep;13(9):405-10.

Hydrogen-driven subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystems (SLiMEs): do they exist and why should we care?

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Department of Earth Sciences, University of Southern California, 3651 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0740, USA.


One of the keys to success of many anaerobic ecosystems is the process of syntrophic intercellular hydrogen transfer. This process facilitates the overall reaction by end-product removal, taking advantage of a wide variety of organisms that are able to use hydrogen directly as an energy source by uptake hydrogenases. Thus, the issue is not whether there are hydrogen-driven processes or communities but whether there are hydrogen-driven communities that exist and persist independently of the products of photosynthesis (so-called subsurface lithoautotrophic microbial ecosystems, or SLiMEs). It is the proof of long-term independence from photosynthesis and its products that is the most difficult issue to establish, and perhaps the most important one with regard to searching for SLiMEs both on and off our planet. Although the evidence is not yet unequivocal, a growing body of evidence supports the existence of SLiME-like communities: if they exist, the implications are immense with regard to understanding subsurface environments on Earth, looking for present day analogs of early Earth and the search for life in other worlds.

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