Funded by:

FWF research project P20282-B17 “Evolution of Trophosomes in Siboglinids”


Symbiomics FA5730091 “Ecological and evolutionary role of horizontal transmission in the model system Riftia pachyptila - Cand. Endoriftia persephone“



Symbiont Release Experiments

Riftia Transcriptomics

Population genetics of symbiotic and free-living population of Endoriftia persephone


Cruise AT 18-12: 04.10.2011-28.10.2011

Chief Scientist: Scott Nooner (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University)

Research Vessel Atlantis

ROV Jason


Austrian participants

Monika Bright

Renate Degen

Julia Klose

Andrea Nussbaumer



Several release experiments in which the release of Cand. Endoriftia persephone from the trophosome of Riftia pachyptila and their ability to “escape” back into the water column with and without flow-through and sulfide supplemented for different length of time were planned and conducted.

For Riftia and Endoriftia transcriptomic studies, samples of several specimens of trophosome skin and tube were collected and fixed for RNA analyses, electron- and fluorescence microscopy in Vienna. This will give an idea about the different genes actively expression in the different tissues.

Additionally, trophosome free-living bacteria in the deep-sea water column and attached to basalt were collected for further population genetic studies in Vienna. Some details about our adventurous journey to the deep sea volcanoes are given in the following report.


Graphic chronicle

A story about hurricanes, broken equipment and broken Jason, an extended and finally successful “cruise from hell”.

The RV Atlantis getting fueled in the port of San Diego, the day before departure to the EPR 9°50N

Loading our equipment...

 .. is hard work.

The happy team (from r. to l.: Monika Bright, Andrea Nussbaumer, Renate Degen, Julia Klose) after unloading the truck :-)

October 4, 2011- Leaving San Diego Bay and heading for the open ocean

Setting up the bio-lab

We were going to crush right into tropical storm Jova and hurricane Irwin. Luckily we already had our safety training

uuuh.. that's what's came up...

AD Colburn, Captain of the Atlantis, passed on the forecast: winds 40-50 knots, seas 12-17', probably waves of 10m height. We've been busy all day to secure our gear, so our lab should go safely through the storm. Hope we do so aswell ;-)

We survived a rather bumpy night with wind speed up to 40 knots, but waves were only about 10 feet high (~3m), so it wasn't too bad. Storm Jova luckily turned west, so we could savely pass. It is still quite shaky, but tough as we are ;-) we already tried to get back to work.

Introducing ROV Jason: Expedition Leader Tito Collasius explained the ROV Jason to us. Fascinating!

The Jason ROV system is operated as a two–body system, composed of Jason and another, smaller vehicle named Medea. Jason can dive 6500 m and weighs over 3,5 tons; and is equipped with sonar imagers, water samplers, video and still cameras and lightning gear. Jason's manipulator arms collected our tubeworm and rock samples and put them into our bioboxes which during the dive were positioned in the two side swingers.

Medea connects Jason via a 10 km fiber-optic cable with the Atlantis (for transfer of electric power and commands) and buffers Jason from the movement of the ship. Medea also provides lightning and a bird’s eye view of the ROV during seafloor operations.

The pilots work together with us scientists from a control room on board the Atlantis which is called the Virtual Control Van.

As we had hundreds of questions, Tito explained every detail to us patiently :-)

Launching of the elevator

Woohoo! We reached our destination at 9°51'N and 104°12'W. The crew of Atlantis and Jason launched the elevator, which sank down to the ocean floor and was later on be loaded by Jason with geophysical measurement devices which were deposited here years before by the geologist Scott Nooner and his team.

Riftia Transcriptomics

As there was no dive caused by the bad weather conditions in the beginning, we used the time to do some test series. Once we got our Riftia pachyptila tubeworms, they were kept alive in high pressure aquariums and were exposed to varying parameters. The aim is to find out which genes will be actively expressed in different tissues of Riftia in stressed and in more comfortable ;) conditions.

Launching the CTD

Because the weather was still too bad to launch ROV Jason, Scott Nooner (here with Marie-Helene Cornier and Walter Roger Buck) and his team launched a CTD to collect some data from the deep. Good for us, as we could attach water bottles to collect plancton samples from hydrothermal vent plumes.

CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth, but it can measure turbidity, salinity and oxygen content of the seawater aswell. The CTD is lowered on a cable down to the seafloor and then carried along a selected route, moving up and down between 20 and 300 m altitude, permanently measuring.

The water bottles were fired at a certain point and so we collected water samples from the plumes of hydrothermal vents, about 20 m above seafloor.

We were dressed up for the work on deck :)

Finally launched Jason!!!

Someone you can meet at 9° 51N in about 2788 m depth

Riftia on board! Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of these beautiful Riftias!


A curious discovery was made these days in the main lab! if this is just an extraordinary mutation between scientist and Riftia tubeworm or in fact a newly discovered species remains to be tested... ;-)

The riddle of the day: whose eggs are these (found on the instrument recovered from >2500m depth today)?

... a pair of big black eyes, a yolk sac with blood vessels and a spine. So these are fish babies and we think that the species is Thermarces cerberus (photo by M.Bright).

The last recovery of ROV Jason and new samples

As soon as all straps were fastened to secure Jason, Monika started to clear out our bioboxes to get the Riftia tubeworms quickly to the lab. We also collected stones to scratch of freeliving bacteria. Many buckets, ice and helping hands needed to store the samples away. Here a basalt stone had to be crushed to fit into the basket. The geologists Kevin McLain and John Morton detaching one of the MAPRs (Miniature Autonomous Plume Recorder), that were fixed on the cable that connects Medea with the ship. These MAPRs are small self-contained instruments for recording temperature, pressure, and optical data during the dive.

On the bridge! ... watching a school of dolphins and birds hunting fish

"Only place in the toilet what you have eaten" On the Atlantis 5000-6000 gallons (more than 22 000 L!!!) fresh water a day are produced. A part of it goes directly to the ships toilets, which are operated on a vacuum-system. This system needs less water than any other toilet system and has got a chlorine treatment plan. Sure you all were already really curious about that ;-)

Captain Ahoi! AD Colburn, the captain of the Atlantis. The Atlantis is actually a NAVY-ship and should have been called Atlantis III. But since the NAVY does not give numbers to ships it is just Atlantis. She was built 1997 and is 274 feet (83.5 m) long. She can hold 1/4 million gallons (about 950 000 L) of fuel. On site the ship needs 1800-2200 gallons a day, while going with 13 knots (24 km/h) she uses up 5000 gallons a day - that means at least 15 000 dollars a day!!!

Panama we are coming (after a 3 days extended cruise)!

From Panama, Balboa the Atlantis headed to Greece right after this cruise. That trip takes about three weeks.

Viva Panama! Dropping of the anchor, waiting for the taxi boat and leaving the Atlantis which was our home for the last month…

Here ended our cruise, that took us from San Diego, California to the hydrothermal vents of the East Pacific Rise and finally to Panama. Thanks a lot to the crew of the Atlantis and to the nice research team! It was a great cruise with wonderful impressions…

Read more about this cruise: (in german)