Microbes found living underground in Antarctica

April 17th, 2009 - 2:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 17 (IANS) An uncharted reservoir of briny liquid, buried under an inland Antarctic glacier, supports unusual microbial life in a place where life is unthinkable.
After sampling the outflow from below Taylor Glacier of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, researchers believe that microbes have adapted over the past 1.5 million years to manipulate sulphur and iron compounds to survive, without photosynthesis.

The microbes also are similar to species found in marine environments, possibly remnants of a larger population of bugs that once occupied a fjord or sea that received sunlight.

Many of these marine lineages likely declined, while others adapted to the changing conditions when the Taylor Glacier advanced, sealing off the system under a thick ice cap.

The research answers some questions and raises others about the persistence of life in extreme environments such as under glaciers, or even in liquid lakes trapped kilometres under the Antarctic ice sheet, environments that until recently scientists would not have believed could support living creatures.

“Among the big questions here are how does an ecosystem function below glaciers? How are they able to persist below hundreds of metres of ice and live in permanently cold and dark conditions for extended periods of time, in the case of Blood Falls, over millions of years?” said Jill Mikucki, study co-author.

Mikucki is a researcher at Dartmouth College in the Department of Earth Sciences and a visiting fellow at the Dickey Centre for International Understanding and its Institute of Arctic Studies, said a Dartmouth release.

The study results were published in the Friday edition of Science.

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