James Childress

Research Professor
(805) 893-3203
4320 Life Sciences Building


My research is concerned with the biology of deep-sea animals. The deep-sea is by far the largest habitat occupied by life on the earth, yet it is relatively little studied and little is known about many aspects of the biology of deep-sea organisms. In particular I have focused on the physiological adaptations of such animals. Such studies can inform us about the rates of processes in the deep-sea as well as the operation of selection and the nature of the deep-sea environment. These studies have over the years shown that a priori expectations about the nature of deep-sea animal's physiological adaptations and rates are often wrong. My current research interests are primarily focused on studies of hydrothermal vent animals and other chemoautotrophic symbioses.

This work is concerned with the functioning of the chemoautotrophic symbioses in their environments. I have been pursuing studies of the hydrothermal vent biota since the first biological expedition to the Galapagos vents in 1979. This work has evolved as our understanding has increased, but a major focus over the years has been the study of how the animals physiologically mediate between the environment and their symbionts. This work presently includes studies of

  • The variation in conditions around vent animals
  • The stable C and N isotope ratios of inorganic sources and the organic material in the animals
  • The uptake, transport and assimilation of inorganic C, N, and sulfide by the animals and endosymbionts
  • Metabolic interactions between the hosts and symbionts, and
  • Respiratory protein function for both O 2and H 2S uptake and transport in vent animals.

Selected Publications

  • Girguis, P. R. and J. J. Childress. 2006 Metabolite uptake, stoichiometry and chemoautotrophic function of the hydrothermal vent tubeworm Riftia pachyptia: responses to environmental variations in substrate concentrations and temperature. J. Exp. Biol. 209: 3516-3528.
  • Childress, J.J., D. Figueroa, and M. Henry. 2006 Physiological Ecology of back-arc basin fauna: explorations of the known and unknown. In D. Christie, C. Fisher editors, Back-Arc Spreading Systems: Geological, Biological, Chemical and Physical Interactions. American Geophysical Union, Washington D. C. pp 235-241
  • Hahlbeck, E., M. A. Pospesel, F. Zal, J. J. Childress, and H. Felbeck. 2005 Proposed nitrate binding by hemoglobin in Riftia pachyptila blood. Deep Sea Res Research I, 52: 1885-1895.
  • Thuesen, E.V., K.D. McCullough & J.J. Childress. 2005 Metabolic enzyme activities in swimming muscle of medusae in relation to body size: Is the scaling of glycolytic activity related to environmental oxygen concentration? J. Mar. Biol. Assoc.U. K. 85: 603-611.
  • Suarez, R. K., C-A. Darveau and J. J. Childress. 2004. Metabolic scaling: a many-splendoured thing. Comp. Biochem. Physiol., B. 139: 531-541.
  • Seibel, B. A., S. K. Goffredi, E. V. Thuesen, J. J. Childress, and B. H. Robison. 2004 Ammonium content and buoyancy in midwater cephalopods. J.Exp. Mar. Biol Ecol. 313: 375-387.
  • Felbeck, H, C. Arndt, U. Hentschel, and J. J. Childress 2004 Experimental application of vascular and coelomic catheterization to identify vascular transport mechanisms for inorganic carbon in the vent tubeworm, Riftia pachyptila. Deep-Sea Research I, 51: 401-411.
  • Childress, J. J., C. R. Fisher, H. Felbeck, and P. Girguis. 2004. On the edge of a deep biosphere: Real animals in extreme environments. American Geophysical Union volume on the subsurface biosphere. In W. S. D. Wilcock, E. F. Delong, D. S. Kelley, J. A. Baross, and S. C. Cary editors, The Subseafloor Biosphere at Midocean Ridges. American Geophysical Union, Washington D. C. pp 41-49.
  • Girguis, P. R., J. J. Childress, J. K. Freytag and H. R. Stuber 2002. Effects of metabolite uptake on proton-equivalent elimination by two species of deep-sea vestimentiferan tubeworm, Riftia pachyptila and Lamellibrachia cf luymesi.: proton elimination is a necessary adaptation to sulfide-oxidizing chemoautotrophic symbionts. J. Exp. Biol. 205: 3055 - 3066.
  • Freytag, J., P. R. Girguis, D. C. Bergquist, J.P. Andras, J. J. Childress, and C. R. Fisher. 2001. A paradox resolved: Sulfide acquisition by roots of seep tubeworms sustains net chemoautotrophy. P. N. A. S. 98:13408-13413.