Scientists find new life form in subglacial lake Vostok (Update: Not)


Lake Vostok may harbor life after allImage credits: US National Science Foundation

Lake Vostok may harbor life after all
Credits: US National Science Foundation

RJC3EXKQYFU9 – It seems that the years of effort are paying off, Russian scientists now claim that they have discovered a type of bacteria unlike any seen before, in the subglacial Lake Vostok in Antarctica.

Russian scientists have claimed the discovery of a new type of bacterial life in water from a buried Antarctic lake.

DNA analysis indicates that this bacteria is not only new, it’s not even related to any of the bacteria types that have been identified on Earth, its DNA is only 86 percent like that of other life forms.

Radar sattelite photo of lake Vostok

Russian scientists have been trying to recover samples from the isolated Lake Vostok for years.

Last year, the team drilled through almost 4km (2.34 miles) of ice to reach the lake and retrieve samples, but the lake is buried beneath a few kilometers or miles of ice.

The researchers may have managed to get to it, but the sample they retrieved was contaminated. It didn’t show any traces of life either.

But new samples recovered this season are a lot more promising. In fact, scientists are convinced they found a new life form.

Considering that it’s so different from anything known to science, it’s safe to assume that it wasn’t brought down by the drilling equipment and is native to the isolated lake. New samples and further analysis is needed to confirm this though.

The Russian scientists successfully drilled through to the lake last year

Lake Vostok has been isolated from the world for millions of years. Beneath the ice, the water managed to remain liquid, though cold, mainly through geothermal energy.

No light arrives so far down, so any life form there would have to survive on the scant resources available, mostly minerals from the rock bed.

The hope is that, if life can survive in such extreme and remote conditions it may survive outside Earth as well.

Conditions in Lake Vostok are thought to be similar, at least in some ways, to those in the under-ice ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa, one of the best candidates for finding extraterrestrial life in our solar system. If life is confirmed to exist in Lake Vostok, all manners of scientists will be extremely happy and hopeful.

Lake Vostok is situated in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth

The Vostok drilling project took years to plan and implement. The lake’s location in the heart of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet makes it one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet.

It is the place where thermometers recorded the lowest ever temperature on Earth – minus 89C on 21 July 1983.

Vostok Station was set up by the Russians in 1956, and their seismic soundings soon suggested there was an area of liquid underneath all the ice. However, it was only in the 1990s that British scientists, with the help of radar, were able to determine the full extent of the sub-glacial feature.

With an area of 15,000 square km and with depths reaching more than 800m, Lake Vostok is similar in size to Lake Baikal in Siberia or Lake Ontario in North America.

Update:

The team’s leader stepped in to say that while some life forms have been found, they are all known and all are believed to be contaminants, i.e. not native to the lake, but brought in by the equipment used to drill through the 3,623 m / 2.25 miles of ice.

This puts a damper on things, scientists have been hoping to find strange new life in the isolated lake that hasn’t had contact with the surface for millions of years.

The idea is that, if there is life there, it may be able to survive similarly harsh conditions on other planets or moons. But no life has been found so far and contaminants continue to be a problem.

Sources: BBC News, Wikipedia, Softpedia

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