MIT Anthropology Spotlight

Deep Sea Exploration

Professor Stefan Helmreich's award winning research on the world of deep sea marine microbiologists

Alien Ocean wins the 2010 Gregory Bateson Book Prize and the 2010 American Ethnological Society Senior Book Prize


When Professor Stefan Helmreich set out to examine the world of marine microbiologists, his research took an unexpected twist. Helmreich, who has been recognized for his innovative work in cultural anthropology, had decided to study scientists who chase some of the world's smallest creatures in some of the world's most forbidding places. So he spent long hours interviewing microbial biologists. But during the years of Helmreich's research, the entire field shifted gears.

Alien Ocean immerses readers in worlds being newly explored by marine biologists, worlds usually out of sight and reach: the deep sea, the microscopic realm and oceans beyond national boundaries. Working alongside scientists at sea and in labs in Monterey Bay, Hawai'i, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Sargasso Sea and at undersea volcanoes in the eastern Pacific, Helmreich charts how revolutions in genomics, bioinformatics and remote sensing have pressed marine biologists to see the sea as animated by its smallest inhabitants: marine microbes. Thriving in astonishingly extreme conditions, such microbes have become key figures in scientific and public debates about the origin of life, climate change, biotechnology, and even the possibility of life on other worlds. More

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