Ancient Bacteria could She’d Light on Life on Alien Planets

Leigh Goessl's image for:
"Ancient Bacteria could She'd Light on Life on Alien Planets"
Image by: 

Scientists have shared they have found evidence of an ancient community of bacteria located beneath about 70 feet (20 meters) of ice in an Antarctic lake. Experts say this will provide insight into this "unique" ecosystem.

The lake where the ancient microorganisms were found is Lake Vida, which is a "mostly frozen" brine lake that lacks in light and oxygen. Fox News reported  that earlier studies determined the brine in Lake Vida has been "isolated from the surface for at least 2,800 years". It is also five to six times saltier than regular ocean water.

"That ice is so thick, nothing from the outside can get down to the water naturally," said researcher Peter Doran, an earth scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Working in extreme cold temperatures, the scientists drilled underneath the ice surface and created a sterile environment over the hole to avoid contaminating the segregated ecosystem beneath the surface.  The primordial bacteria was described to be "thriving".

According to Reuters, the study and subsequent findings in Lake Vida will "provide clues" about biochemical processes that are not associated with photosynthesis. The project itself was a collaboration of several educational institutions including the University of Illinois at Chicago, Montana State University and University of Chicago. Funding came from the National Science Foundation and NASA.

This study not only will provide insight into the conditions located in this remote location on Earth, but is believed to possibly shed light on even more distant locations outer space.

About the findings, "It can tell us about the origins of life on Earth and it also educates us about looking for life elsewhere," said Peter Doran, principal investigator with the Lake Vida project and environmental sciences professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Humans on Earth have always been eager to find evidence of life on other planets, but certain clues recently uncovered on Earth have been leading to theories about possible extraterrestrial life.

Researchers say that the environment at Lake Vida is similar to the habitation on Mars; additionally experts indicate that these conditions are likely to be found in other locations of the solar system.  With these findings, scientists say it could create a new framework to evaluate the possibility of life on other planets and how these extraterrestrial communities could sustain.

"By seeing what the boundaries of life are on Earth, that helps us when we go out and look for examples elsewhere," Doran said. "Years ago, we never would have thought to look for life in the sub-surface of Mars, and now we have examples on Earth that things can live down there."

The study on the ancient bacteria was published in full in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on Nov. 26.

More about this author: Leigh Goessl

From Around the Web

  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/11/27/ancient-microbes-found-in-buried-antarctic-lake/
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/28/us-usa-bacteria-antarctica-idUSBRE8AR19E20121128
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44068626/ns/technology_and_science-space/t/building-blocks-dna-found-meteorites-space/#.ULbKT0fczQs