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NASA-Funded Project Investigates Deep-Sea Life

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, CA, is using funding from organizations including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), an electromechanical/ fluidic instrument that collects discrete water samples from the ocean subsurface. It concentrates microorganisms (particulates), and automates application of molecular probes to identify microorganisms and their gene products. The ESP also archives samples so that further analyses may be done after the instrument is recovered. NASA is considering how elements of the ESP might be useful in looking for life on other planets.

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The second generation of the ESP (ESP-2G) core instrument, an analytical laboratory in the sea. (MBARI)
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in Moss Landing, CA, is using funding from organizations including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), an electromechanical/ fluidic instrument that collects discrete water samples from the ocean subsurface. It concentrates microorganisms (particulates), and automates application of molecular probes to identify microorganisms and their gene products. The ESP also archives samples so that further analyses may be done after the instrument is recovered. NASA is considering how elements of the ESP might be useful in looking for life on other planets.

A sample collection module and pressure housing suitable for deploying the ESP at depths to 4,000 meters has been developed. This version of the instrument is known as the deep-sea ESP (D-ESP). In order to adapt this instrument for use in the deep sea, the researchers had to develop a “deepwater sampling module,” which allows the ESP to collect samples of sea water at depths where the water pressure can be several hundred times that at the surface. The second generation of the ESP was designed as a modular core instrument system that can be reconfigured and modified to suit a wider variety of deployment and analysis scenarios.

For more information on the MBARI and the ESP project, visit www.mbari.org/ESP/.