Ultimately, they found that indeed a nutrient-enriched community became dominated by species that could process biochemical information at a faster rate, whereas the original low-nutrient community harbored species with reduced costs of biochemical information processing.

“This study is unique and powerful because it takes ideas from the ecological study of large organisms and applies them to microbial communities in a whole-ecosystem experiment,” said Elser. “By doing so, we were able, perhaps for the first time, to identify and confirm that there are fundamental genomewide traits associated with systematic microbial responses to ecosystem nutrient status, without regard to the species identity of those microbes.”

What this may suggest for life on other planets is that organisms, no matter where they are, have to have information-processing machinery fine-tuned to the key resources around them. In turn, the supply of these resources will depend on the planetary environment.

“This is very exciting, as it suggests there are rules of life that should be generally applicable to life on Earth and beyond,” said Okie.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration