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Lake Vostok mysteries: Biologists find over 3,500 life forms in isolated Antarctic basin

Published time: July 07, 2013 02:39
Edited time: July 08, 2013 11:30
RADARSAT image of Lake Vostok, Antarctica. (NASA)

RADARSAT image of Lake Vostok, Antarctica. (NASA)

Scientists have discovered more than 3,500 unique gene sequences in Lake Vostok – the underground Antarctic water reservoir isolated from the outside world for 15 million years – revealing a complex ecosystem far beyond anything they could have expected.

"The bounds on what is habitable and what is not are changing," said Scott Rogers, Bowling Green State University professor of biological sciences, who led a genetic study of the contents of half a liter of water brought back from the lake after it was drilled by Russian scientists last year.

"We found much more complexity than anyone thought,"
Rogers said. "It really shows the tenacity of life, and how organisms can survive in places where a couple dozen years ago we thought nothing could survive."

There are few places on Earth more hostile to life forms than Lake Vostok, the largest subglacial lake in the Antarctic, and initially Rogers believed that the water from it may have been completely sterile.

Water is located 4,000 meters below the ice, which completely blocks sunlight, and creates huge pressure on the liquid. It is also literally located in the coldest place on Earth: the world’s lowest temperature of -89.2C was recorded at Vostok Station above the reservoir.

Image from the study

But after using bleach to remove outer layers of the ice (the form in which the water was extracted from the lake) which could potentially have been contaminated during the drilling, and conducting RNA and DNA testing, thousands of microscopic life forms, predominantly bacteria, were detected.

Many had expected that if any life forms were to be found in the frozen crypt, they would be uniquely adapted to the harsh environment, and perhaps entirely different as a result of being shielded from evolution of life elsewhere on the planet for millions of years.

Rogers, who has just published his findings in PLOS One magazine, says this has not turned out to be the case.

"Many of the species we sequenced are what we would expect to find in a lake. Most of the organisms appear to be aquatic (freshwater), and many are species that usually live in ocean or lake sediments."

A handout photo provided by the Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute taken at the Vostok station in Antarctica on February 5, 2012, shows Russian researchers posing for a picture after reaching the subglacial lake Vostok (AFP Photo)

Rogers’ team believes the relative ordinariness of the organisms discovered may be due to the fact that they are left there as a legacy of when Antarctica had a temperate climate 35 million years ago, rather than as a result of evolution inside the lake.

Some of the organisms found in Lake Vostok commonly exist in ocean environments (in the digestive systems of fish and crustaceans) suggesting that the reservoir was once connected to a bigger body of saltwater.

But Rogers believes “two huge drops of temperature” cut it off and conserved it in its present state.

Yet the study is not excluding the possibility of startling discoveries.

"It's a very challenging project and the more you study, the more you want to know. Every day you are discovering something new and that leads to more questions to be answered,” said Yury Shtarkman, who conducted many of the analyses, and believes it could take a lifetime to untangle the secrets of the lake.

Comments (96)

 

DanielKnight 4Christ 21.03.2014 13:03

[quote name='Anonymous user' time='08.07.2013 23:35']Yea, when we finally meet intelligent life, the creationist will claim Jesus saved them....haha.[/quote ]

Who said all creationists were Christians you atheist moron? Who said you speak for everyone and that no one has met "intelligent life"? So no one has ever met another person? No one has ever met an intelligent animal? You're so UNINTELLIGENT that u speak dumber than an 8 year old of average intelligence, so why don't you lose your pointless pride and be humble? Have you had a book being the best selling for 100's of years like Christ? NO.

 

DanielKnight 4Christ 21.03.2014 12:59

[quote name='Anonymous user' time='08.07.2013 23:35']Yea, when we finally meet intelligent life, the creationist will claim Jesus saved them....haha.[/quote ]

Haha that made no says haha. What a dumb atheist. Atheists are dumb, but you take the cake. Stop babbling you idiot.

 

DanielKnight 4Christ 21.03.2014 12:58

Anonymous user 09.07.2013 05:32

The only thing that matters is that they found new species and i'm sure there will be a lot to learn

  


Said the failed atheist. And whatever you say is true because you feel so with hurting pride. What a little baby. What a truth-hating idiot.

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