Beneath the icy surface of a buried Antarctic lake, in super-salty water devoid of light and oxygen that is also cold enough to freeze seawater, researchers have now discovered that a diverse community of bacteria has survived for millennia.
The findings shed light on the extreme limits at which life can live not just on Earth, but possibly alien worlds, scientists added.
Researchers analyzed Lake Vida, which lies encapsulated within ice at least 60 feet (18 meters) beneath Antarctica’s surface. Past studies revealed the brine in the lake has been isolated from the surface for at least 2,800 years.
“That ice is so thick, nothing from the outside can get down to the water naturally,”researcher Peter Doran, an earth scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said from a research outpost on Antarctica.
Similar habitats may exist on icy alien worlds, researchers said.
“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.” Read more
Image above: image shows a scanning electron micrograph of very small (about 0.2 micron) and numerous bacterial cells found inhabiting icy brine channels in Antarctica’s Lake Vida, which lies in the Victoria Valley, one of the northernmost of the Antarctic dry valleys.
CREDIT: Christian H. Fritsen, DRI Research Professor, and Clinton Davis DRI graduate student
Source and author: ouramazingplanet