120,000 yr old frozen microbe in Greenland may hold clues to alien life

June 15th, 2009 - 12:19 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 15 (ANI): A team of scientists has found a tiny frozen microbe trapped more than three kilometres under glacial ice in Greenland for over 120,000 years, which may hold clues as to what life forms might exist on other planets.

The novel microbe was found by Dr Jennifer Loveland-Curtze and a team of scientists from Pennsylvania State University, US.

The team coaxed the dormant microbe back to life; first incubating their samples at 2 degree Celsius for seven months and then at 5 degree C for a further four and a half months, after which colonies of very small purple-brown bacteria were seen.

H. glaciei is small even by bacterial standards. It is 10 to 50 times smaller than E. coli.

Its small size probably helped it to survive in the liquid veins among ice crystals and the thin liquid film on their surfaces.

Small cell size is considered to be advantageous for more efficient nutrient uptake, protection against predators and occupation of micro-niches and it has been shown that ultramicrobacteria are dominant in many soil and marine environments.

Most life on our planet has always consisted of microorganisms, so it is reasonable to consider that this might be true on other planets as well.

Studying microorganisms living under extreme conditions on Earth may provide insight into what sorts of life forms could survive elsewhere in the solar system.

“These extremely cold environments are the best analogues of possible extraterrestrial habitats”, said Dr Loveland-Curtze.

“The exceptionally low temperatures can preserve cells and nucleic acids for even millions of years. H. glaciei is one of just a handful of officially described ultra-small species and the only one so far from the Greenland ice sheet,” she added.

“Studying these bacteria can provide insights into how cells can survive and even grow under extremely harsh conditions, such as temperatures down to -56 degree C, little oxygen, low nutrients, high pressure and limited space,” she explained. (ANI)

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