Life Found Under Ice-Covered Antarctica Lake Surprises Scientists
In the harsh depths of an ice-covered lake in Antarctica, researchers have found forms of life dating back almost 100,000 years, according to a paper published in the journal Diversity. Microbes like these, discovered in mud from Antarctica's Lake Hodgson, fascinate scientists who speculate that if bacteria can exist in the harshest reaches of Earth, it could also potentially withstand the inhospitable climates of places like Mars.
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Mud samples from the bottom of the lake contained a number of organisms, including bacteria and extremophiles, microbial life that thrives in extreme conditions. Lake Hodgson, which was under about 1,300 feet of ice during the Ice Age, is now under only about 13 feet of ice , Lake Hodgson was chosen by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey because its melting ice has made it easier to draw samples from. The lake is on the Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of Antarctica's mainland.
After drilling into the lake, BAS scientists found that the mud at the bottom was richer than they imagined, representing "a time capsule storing the DNA of the microbes which have lived there throughout the millennia," according to a press release. Recent organisms inhabited the top few inches of the core drilled by BAS, but microbes lower down on the core likely date back almost 100,000 years. One DNA sequence found in the Antarctic mud is related to the most ancient organisms known on Earth.
"What was surprising was the high biomass and diversity we found," said David Pearce, lead author of the Diversity paper. "This is the first time microbes have been identified living in the sediments of a subglacial Antarctic lake and indicates that life can exist and potentially thrive in environments we would consider too extreme."
"The fact these organisms have survived in such a unique environment could mean they have developed in unique ways which could lead to exciting discoveries for us," Pearce added. "This is the early stage and we now need to do more work to further investigate these life forms."
In May, researchers in the Canadian Arctic discovered Planococcus halocryophilus OR1, a new bacterium, thriving in permafrost on Ellesmere Island, an area scientists thought too cold for life of any kind.
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