Life under the ice

life-discovered-under-ice-in-antarctic-lake_1By Kelly

I am ashamed at my tardiness in posting this article as if I am to be honest I find it more exciting than the prospect of life on Mars. It’s life on Earth. But it’s life on Earth that has been discovered in a lake. Not excite you? What if I was to tell you the lake was in Antarctica? No? How about if I told you that you had to drill down through 800m of ice to get to the lake? Surely I’ve got your attention now?

While I was feeling rather overwhelmed by my impeding committee meeting this week, real scientists were out there discovering new life on earth. The article was published in Nature and reposted on Scientific American which is great news as it means it is open access. Which is only right because the whole world should feel the same sense of wonder and amazement at the discovery of new chemotrophic organisms. By chemotrophic I refer to the fact that these bacteria must harness their energy from a chemical reaction of some sort because you most certainly can’t rely on sunlight penetrating through 800m of ice. Even amateur scientists like my self can recognize that fact. Last Wednesday scientists announced the discovery of bacteria in drill cores from a subterranean  lake in the Antarctic.

The lake in question is Lake Whillans and on th 28th of January John Priscu and his team were able to confirm that there was definitely life down there, 800m under the ice. Extracting the bacteria must have taken enormous effort to ensure that the process of drilling didn’t contaminate the core. I know a researcher here at the ANU who discovered that  biomarkers from life forms previously thought to unravel out ancient past were in fact…..biomarkers from the oil used to drill in to the ancient earth; two very different discoveries.

However in the Antarctic it would appear we have a major discovery. And this is of course just the beginning. There are so many questions to be answered once the researchers can extract DNA. How closely are they related to life on the surface? Or other chemotrophic micorbes say at the bottom of the ocean, at hydrothermal vents? And may we find similar organisms on other planets? Perhaps Europa????

For the full article, click here and stay tuned for more…..

One response to “Life under the ice

  1. Are there two teams of scientists trying to drill into sub-Antarctic lakes? I was following the team from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who actually failed in their attempt last season (http://www.ellsworthlive.org.uk/). Does this mean that a different team succeeded?

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