Russian Scientists Discover New Type Of Microbe In Antarctic Lake Vostok

By Staff Reporter on March 8, 2013 6:45 AM EST

Antarctic ice
Russian scientists discover new type of microbe in Antarctic lake Vostok (Photo: NASA)

Russian scientists have discovered a new type of microbe in the subglacial Lake Vostok in Antarctica, according to a report by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Last year, a team of Russian researchers retrieved clean samples of water from ancient Lake Vostok, which is buried more than two miles below the Antarctic ice and is isolated for more than 17 million years. They found one form of bacteria in the samples which did not have any resemblance to other existing type of microbes.

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"After putting aside all possible elements of contamination, DNA was found that did not coincide with any of the well-known types in the global database," Sergei Bulat, of the genetics laboratory at the Saint Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"We are calling this life form unclassified and unidentified," he added.

The bacteria is said to be less than 86 percent similar to other previously existing forms. If the DNA of a microbe has a match of under 90 percent, then it means that the organism is an unknown species. Scientists were not even able to identify the descendants of the new type of microbe.

More tests are being conducted, but researchers say they need more samples to confirm the results. They hope to collect new samples during their expedition to the lake in May.

The new discovery is already drawing attention from other Antarctic scientists. They have earlier proposed that buried Antarctic lakes could harbor microbial life, despite the fact that sunlight does not penetrate to those depths.

These findings might provide clues about the lake's surrounding environment. They might help in discovering what life forms could exist in such extreme conditions and whether life could thrive on other planets.

Similar efforts of finding microbial life are being undertaken by scientists from other countries. In January this year, a U.S.-based team successfully retrieved clean samples from subglacial Lake Whillans, which is buried beneath over 2,000 feet (800m) of Antarctic ice.

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