The puzzle at the bottom of the sea | Tu no

The puzzle at the bottom of the sea |  Tu no

– My main goal here now is to find this man.

The words belong to retired marine biologist Jan Pawlowski, who is participating in the research expedition Extreme24 In the Barents Sea. Pawlowski points to the fact that in 2022 DNA belonging to a hitherto unknown species was found on the sea floor off Svalbard.

-We know he's at the bottom

The genetic material he discovered was analyzed, and a DNA profile was created for it. A profile shows that an organism is a species Foraminifera, or foram as scientists call it, is a type of single-celled organism found almost everywhere. No gene bank has recorded this exact profile before, which means that this particular organism is unknown to us.

– The mystery is that we know there is something down there. We have the DNA evidence, the traces are pretty clear, and I have an idea of ​​what it must look like. “But I can't find it,” Pawlowski says.

In 2022, UiT Norway's Arctic University led the Akma research expedition, which aims to investigate methane emissions from the Arctic seafloor. We knew very little about life on the seafloor near these underground gas seeps, but during the voyage the researchers were surprised by the diversity of species in the area surrounding the seeps.

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Living in harsh conditions

On this trip Jan Pawlowski received samples from the bottom that were proven to contain the unknown DNA. The area where the creature lives is very inhospitable, it is deep, there is no sunlight, and there is a lot of methane there.

– Normal organisms will not be able to live in such conditions, and they will die very quickly. So it is interesting to know how this unknown creature managed to adapt to life in these inhospitable conditions. “I'm not looking for him to satisfy my own ambitions, but it would be interesting to see how he could live there,” Pawlowski says.

- نحن نعلم أن هناك شيئًا ما، كما يقول جان باولوفسكي.  لكن العثور على ما يبحثون عنه ليس بالأمر السهل.  <i data-lazy-src=

The marine biologist is convinced of the existence of this organism, because he found traces of it in several bottom samples from areas surrounding methane emissions.

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-You can't have DNA from something and not have a source for the DNA. This is not a mystery like Loch Ness, where there are many stories and legends about the sea monster, but no evidence. Here we have the data, and the samples show that there is something down there, something that survives the harsh environment, there's no doubt about it, now we just have to find it, he says.

Perfect team

Alongside the research process, he gets help from marine biologist Inés Angeles from UiT. They have known each other for over ten years, but this is their first time on a trip together. They're a perfect team, with Jan knowing where to look to find microscopic organisms and Ines working on DNA identification. She shares her older colleague's enthusiasm for finding the mysterious creature.

– Of course I would like to continue searching for him. “We've only found parts of the genetic material now, so when we can find the organism, I want to get the entire DNA sequence, so we can start studying its properties,” Angelis says.

تأخذ إينيس بارينيتشيا أنجيليس عينة من حصيرة البكتيريا.  <i data-lazy-src=

Extreme24 takes place aboard the research ship Crown Prince Haakon and is captained by UiT professor Juliana Panieri. For many years, she also contributed to collecting DNA samples from the same area, samples that have now enabled researchers to make significant progress.

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Panieri is happy to see the intense collaboration taking place on board, a collaboration that transcends professional boundaries and from one generation to the next.

– Knowledge from the elder goes to the younger, and knowledge from the young goes to the elder. Because the younger ones know very well, for example, what technological development is, and they are also familiar with the main scientific questions that we are working on now. While the elders have knowledge that they have of course gathered during their long lives as researchers. So, you have the past and the present coming together to predict and study what will happen in the future, Panieri says.

The technology in the surveillance pyramid consists of robots, unmanned ships for underwater and sea surface use, as well as small satellites and drones.  The vehicle is equipped, among other things, with acoustic and optical sensors, such as hyperspectral cameras.  The technology in the surveillance pyramid consists of robots, unmanned ships for underwater and sea surface use, as well as small satellites and drones.  The vehicle is equipped, among other things, with acoustic and optical sensors, such as hyperspectral cameras.

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Looking for the remote control

For this trip, the researchers were able to borrow REV Ocean's Aurora, a remote-controlled underwater vehicle that can dive to great depths and photograph and retrieve samples from the seafloor.

On the cruise, she almost completed the Aurora. 40- Diving and extracting sediments from the bottom, water from different depths, gases resulting from emissions at the bottom, and large rock formations formed by organisms that live at the bottom. All the different samples are preserved and later analyzed by researchers.

Something going on

For five days, Jan Pawlowski and Inés Angeles prepared the bottom samples they received. They spent endless hours in front of microscopes searching for the missing creature, but to no avail.

Until the sixth day, then something happens.

Late in the evening, Aurora takes a down sample in the middle of a bacterial cap of about the same size. At a depth of 450 metres, after a few hours the sample is safely transported aboard Crown Prince Haakon. The sample looks very promising and Ines handles it carefully, extracting two teaspoons of the brown mass to preserve it and prepare it for analysis.

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-Basically, something so small that it can only be seen under a microscope is difficult to find, and even more difficult to find if there are few of them. The bacterial mats in which they live can reach several square meters in area. “We take samples that are only a few centimeters in diameter and take out a few teaspoons to analyze, so it helps to have a little luck every now and then,” Angelis explains.

Then, at two o'clock on the night of the seventh day, the message comes from Pawlowski that an organism has been found in the samples that fits the description of the missing person.

المنخربات المشتبه بها والتي قد تكون هي التي كانوا يبحثون عنها.  <i data-lazy-src=

– I'm sure this is the man we were looking for. We can't be completely sure until we analyze it and extract the DNA profile, but I have a good feeling. It's frustrating to search as far as we have and know it should be close by but can't find it. Now I could pack my bags and go home feeling happy, and then it would be up to Ennis to uncover the secrets of this living being. What characteristics does it possess that enable it to live in such conditions, and how did it succeed in adapting to the hostile environment? Pawlowski wonders.

In other words, the mystery is not yet fully solved.

The article was first published on UiT website

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Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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