Antarctic researchers find life in subglacial lake

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Lake Whillans, a small body of water huddled in eternal darkness beneath 800-metre-thick Antarctic ice, seems to harbour life.
Researchers with the US Antarctic expedition team WISSARD who accessed the lake on 28 January report that they have found microbes in samples of lake water and sediment — but what kind of known or novel organisms those might be has yet to be determined.

If the reported preliminary findings hold up, it is the first time that life has been discovered in a subglacial lake.

How the bacteria produce and metabolize energy in an environment probably deprived of oxygen and nutrients is unclear. Team members speculate that the organisms might live on energy extracted from minerals in surrounding rocks — a survival strategy also used by certain bacteria found in gold mines.

Antarctica’s hidden lakes, sealed for probably millions of years, mark one of the utmost frontiers for life on Earth.  Many scientists think the lakes and what dwells in them will provide hints about which forms of life might exist on other planets or moons — for example on Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is thought to host a large sub-surface ocean.

Written By: Quirin Schiermeier
continue to source article at blogs.nature.com

8 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! They found mud at the bottom of a lake! But seriously the exploration is worthwhile to see if life can be found in an inhospitable environment as it raises the prospects of very simple life in other hostile environments such as the US Republican party. Hopefully the bacteria they found was not carried down on the drill bit or in the drilling fluid (kerosene in this case).

  2. In reply to #3 by AfraidToDie:

    Can they be certain that no deep subsurface stream of some kind is not feeding into this lake? Perhaps the DNA breakdown of whatever they have found will help determine this?

    The deep subsurface streams feeding into central lakes in Antarctica are only from one freshwater sub-glacial lake to another. The Antarctic continent is surrounded by many miles of salt-water ocean. The geothermal melting of the ice cap is from the bottom up, not top-down heating from the atmosphere as in Greenland.

  3. This is fascinating stuff. I’m not surprised by the life in Lake Whlllans. Now why haven’t the Russians discovered any in Lake Vostock? It didn’t adapt quickly enough? Faulty equipment? It was never there?

    This is one of those “I’ve got to know more moments!”

  4. In reply to #6 by Mr DArcy:

    This is fascinating stuff. I’m not surprised by the life in Lake Whlllans. Now why haven’t the Russians discovered any in Lake Vostock? It didn’t adapt quickly enough? Faulty equipment? It was never there?

    This is one of those “I’ve got to know more moments!”

    Lake Vostok is a lot deeper under the ice.

    They have not found any life at present, but have drilled through to the water of the lake and obtained a sample:-

    http://www.realclearscience.com/2013/01/11/russians

    Russian drilling operations at Lake Vostok, Antarctica, have succeeded in collecting a long-sought core sample of water frozen into the borehole from the glacier-covered, 20 million-year-old lake they cracked into last year.

    “The first core of transparent lake ice, two meters long, was obtained on Jan. 10, at a depth of 3,406 meters (11,174.5 feet).”

    NEWS: No Life Found in Antarctica’s Buried Lake Vostok

    The water that gushed into the borehole through the crack in the ice, froze in place and remained untouched until now.
    “Initially, we saw completely unknown to us ice – an opaque, porous, bright white (ice),” explained Vyacheslav Martianov, the deputy head of the Russian Antarctic Expedition, to BSR Russia. “But 20 meters after that we saw transparent ice, with the white ice frozen inside of it.”

    By using the lake water as a frozen plug in the borehole, the Russians have managed to tap into what is considered the largest of Antarctica’s known sub-glacial lakes, without, hopefully, contaminating it. Analysis of the ice will tell whether the ice is indeed contamination free and if any organisms from the surface of the lake found themselves frozen in history.

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