Deep sea researchers have caught footage of the most unlikely and extreme of creatures: giant amoebas. Using specially-rigged untethered landers or "dropcams," the team spotted these mysterious single-celled organisms earlier this summer in the planet's deepest known region, the Mariana Trench of the Pacific Ocean.
Using hi-definition digital cameras outfitted with lights and protected by a pressure-resistant glass shell, LiveScience reports that researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and engineers from National Geographic spotted these so-called 'xenophyophores,' which reside only in the deepest oceans.
The extreme environment means that these "very fragile and poorly studied" creatures, which measure more than 4 inches (10 centimeters), are adapted to dark habitats, cold temperatures and high pressure of the deep. The single-celled amoebas also trap particles from water, which means that they are also highly concentrated in and likely resistant to heavy metals like lead, uranium and mercury.
There's not much that is known about these organisms and the deep-sea ecosystems that they are a part of. But researchers hope to further study these abundant but enigmatic marine animals to get a better understanding of the bigger ecological context they live in, says Doug Bartlett, a Scripps marine microbiologist who oversaw the project:
The identification of these gigantic cells in one of the deepest marine environments on the planet opens up a whole new habitat for further study of biodiversity, biotechnological potential and extreme environment adaptation.
Previously, the deepest-known sighting of the organisms was in the New Hebrides trench at 4.7 miles (7,500 m), but a new record is set with this discovery of xenophyophores at 6.6 miles (10,641 meters) within the Mariana Trench.