*sigh* Two years ago, this time, I was packing my bags for Antarctica. *sigh*

As much as I would like to go back, I could never afford it… so I need to figure out how to get on one of these research teams working in Antarctica.

See, abiogenesis, life on other planets– that is not just a thought game physicists play.  There are scientists– microbiologists, virologists, biochemists, geologists– who try to find and study life in the most extreme locations on Earth, to try to figure out what ‘life’ could look like say, on Mars, or Europa.

Its not a game.

Its the research they perform day-in-day-out.

A group just found bacteria (and where there are bacteria, there are bacteriophage!!!) in a, frankly, absurd location:

Microbial life at −13 °C in the brine of an ice-sealed Antarctic lake

The lake in question: Lake Vida

Its closer to the New Zeland/Austalia side of Antarctica, so nowhere close to where I got to visit.  It is covered with ice year round (for now). Not, like, a few feet of ice. About 69 feet of ice!  Year round!

Not only that, but the dirt around the lake is frozen too (again, for now)… which means the water in this lake has been isolated from in/out flow, isolated from the rest of the world, for >2800 years.

Lets get to the water in the lake– First of all, no one even knew there was liquid in this lake until 2002, they thought it was just solid ice.  Well, there is.  Its a nice almost-neutral pH of 6.2, but it just gets crazy from there. The water is -13 C.  The only way there can be liquid water at these low temperatures is if there is a TON of salt in it, and there is. The Dead Sea has a salt level at 40 ‘Practical Salinity Units’.  Lake Vida is at 188 PSU.

There is a nice mish-mash of metal ions (Ca, Cl, Mg, Al, Feetc), bubbling of gasses (N2O, CO2), but not a smidgen of oxygen.

Oh, and a ton of bacteria.

Not dead/frozen bacteria– Very live bacteria, happily (but slowly!) generating proteins in their hypersaline, super cold, no oxygen, ton of iron environment!

And not just one kind of bacteria– lots of different phyla, some of which have never been observed in a hypersaline environment before!

Maybe Ive been thinking too small.  Maybe I dont want to research in Antarctica… might be more fun to go to Europa with a shovel…

Comments

  1. #1 Erik
    December 3, 2012

    Um. Europa is officially out of bounds, according to the Space Monoliths. Try to land there, and the next thing you’ll be beaten to death by a proto-hominid using a femur as a club. Or possibly an icicle. Femurs may be in short supply.

    My advice: bring something heavier than a shovel. Think Maxim 34: If you’re leaving scorch marks, you need a bigger gun.

  2. #2 Bob Powers
    December 4, 2012

    That is quite interesting. It seems that the chemical accident we call life, can exist nearly anywhere on earth. I recall reading about hyper-saline, super-hot mud pools who also harbor heat-loving bacteria.

    If life can work in those places? It seems to be far more probable that life is everywhere in the universe.

    I do expect scientists to discover life of some sort, on most of the other nearby planets. Eventually.

    I do hope you get your wish to return to Antarctica. That’s kind of cool (no pun intended), that I actually am acquainted with an actual Antarctic scientist. :D

  3. #3 Tony Mach
    December 4, 2012

    The last thing I watched yesterday was this:
    http://youtu.be/f6I_f93O8dg
    Steven Squyres, pondering the future of planetary exploration.

    He goes (rather shortly, at the end around minute 50) into a mission to explore the under-ice sea of Europa. I don’t think we will see this in our life-times. The amount of material we would need to bring to Europa is staggering.

    There was no talk about such Europa missions at NASA’s “Solar system Exploration @ 50 Symposium”
    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/history/features/SSEat50.html
    The best we can hope for at the moment is for some sort of Europa Orbiter/”Clipper” space probe, to find out how thick the ice is (where it is thinner, and how thin), how deep the ocean is and so on.

    (And while we are at lectures Steven Squyres, one should see this video about the exploration of Mars through Spirit and Opportunity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1m9p2uomE8
    And if you want to know what is going on at Mars with regards to Curiosity, while I haven’t read it all, I can recommend this:
    http://www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/space-missions/mer-updates/2012/11-mer-update-opportunity-digs-in-at-matijevic-hill.html
    http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2012/curiosity-instrument-sam.html )

  4. #4 Tony Mach
    December 4, 2012

    Sorry, one of the links from me was wrong, should have been:
    http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2012/12031316-curiosity-kerfuffle.html

  5. #5 Vince Whirlwind
    December 4, 2012

    But surely those scientists who claim to have discovered bacteria are just making things up in order to garner fame and research grants?!
    I say we hack their emails and find out what they’re really up to.

  6. #6 heddle
    December 13, 2012

    Fascinating.

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