Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient microbes found living beneath the icy surface of Antarctic lake

Date:
November 26, 2012
Source:
Desert Research Institute
Summary:
A pioneering study reveals, for the first time, a viable community of bacteria that survives and ekes out a living in a dark, salty and subfreezing environment beneath nearly 20 meters of ice in one of Antarctica's most isolated lakes.

While Antarctica's Lake Vida will never be a vacation destination, it is home to some newly discovered hearty microbes.
Credit: Courtesy of the Desert Research Institute.

This week a pioneering study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and co-authored by Dr. Alison Murray and Dr. Christian Fritsen of Nevada's Desert Research Institute (DRI) reveals, for the first time, a viable community of bacteria that survives and ekes out a living in a dark, salty and subfreezing environment beneath nearly 20 meters of ice in one of Antarctica's most isolated lakes.

Lake Vida, the largest of several unique lakes found in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, contains no oxygen, is mostly frozen and possesses the highest nitrous oxide levels of any natural water body on Earth. A briny liquid that is approximately six times saltier than seawater percolates throughout the icy environment that has an average temperature of minus 13.5 degrees centigrade (or 8 degrees Fahrenheit).

"This study provides a window into one of the most unique ecosystems on Earth," said Murray, the report's lead author, and molecular microbial ecologist and polar researcher for the past 17 years, who has participated in 14 expeditions to the Southern Ocean and Antarctic continent. "Our knowledge of geochemical and microbial processes in lightless icy environments, especially at subzero temperatures, has been mostly unknown up until now. This work expands our understanding of the types of life that can survive in these isolated, cryoecosystems and how different strategies may be used to exist in such challenging environments."

Despite the very cold, dark and isolated nature of the habitat, the report finds that the brine harbors a surprisingly diverse and abundant assemblage of bacteria that survive without a present-day source of energy from the sun. Previous studies of Lake Vida dating back to 1996 indicate that the brine and its' inhabitants have been isolated from outside influences for more than 3,000 years.

Murray and her co-authors and collaborators, including the project's principal investigator Dr. Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago, developed stringent protocols and specialized equipment for their 2005 and 2010 field campaigns to sample the lake brine while avoiding contaminating the pristine ecosystem.

To sample the unique environment researchers worked under secure, sterile tents on the lake's surface to keep the site and equipment clean as they drilled ice cores, collected samples of the salty brine residing in the lake ice and then assessed the chemical qualities of the water and its potential for harboring and sustaining life, in addition to describing the diversity of the organisms detected.

Geochemical analyses suggest that chemical reactions between the brine and the underlying iron-rich sediments generate nitrous oxide and molecular hydrogen. The latter, in part, may provide the energy needed to support the brine's diverse microbial life.

"It's plausible that a life-supporting energy source exists solely from the chemical reaction between anoxic salt water and the rock," explained Fritsen, a systems microbial ecologist and Research Professor in DRI's Division of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences.

"If that's the case," echoed Murray. "This gives us an entirely new framework for thinking of how life can be supported in cryoecosystems on earth and in other icy worlds of the universe."

Murray added further research is currently under way to analyze the abiotic, chemical interactions between the Lake Vida brine and the sediment, in addition to investigating the microbial community by using different genome sequencing approaches. The results could help explain the potential for life in other salty, cryogenic environments beyond Earth.

The Lake Vida brine also represents a cryoecosystem that is a suitable and accessible analog for the soils, sediments, wetlands, and lakes underlying the Antarctic ice sheet that other polar researchers are just now beginning to explore.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Desert Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Alison E. Murray, Fabien Kenig, Christian H. Fritsen, Christopher P. McKay, Kaelin M. Cawley, Ross Edwards, Emanuele Kuhn, Diane M. McKnight, Nathaniel E. Ostrom, Vivian Peng, Adrian Ponce, John C. Priscu, Vladimir Samarkin, Ashley T. Townsend, Protima Wagh, Seth A. Young, Pung To Yung, and Peter T. Doran. Microbial life at −13 C in the brine of an ice-sealed Antarctic lake. PNAS, November 26, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1208607109

Cite This Page:

Desert Research Institute. "Ancient microbes found living beneath the icy surface of Antarctic lake." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126151054.htm>.
Desert Research Institute. (2012, November 26). Ancient microbes found living beneath the icy surface of Antarctic lake. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126151054.htm
Desert Research Institute. "Ancient microbes found living beneath the icy surface of Antarctic lake." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121126151054.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

Raw: San Diego Zoo Welcomes Cheetah Cubs

AP (Sep. 20, 2014) The San Diego Zoo has welcomed two Cheetah cubs to its Safari Park. The nearly three-week-old female cubs are being hand fed and are receiving around the clock care. (Sept. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

Chocolate Museum Opens in Brussels

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Considered a "national heritage" in Belgium, chocolate now has a new museum in Brussels. In a former chocolate factory, visitors to the permanent exhibition spaces, workshops and tastings can discover derivatives of the cocoa bean. Duration: 01:00 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Hearty Organisms Discovered in Bitter-Cold Antarctic Brine

Nov. 26, 2012 Where there's water there's life -- even in brine beneath 60 feet of Antarctic ice, in permanent darkness and subzero ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins