Russian Researchers Find ‘Unclassified’ Life In Subglacial Lake Vostok
A team of Russian researchers say that they have found an entirely new type of bacteria in the subglacial lake Vostok in Antarctica.
Lake Vostok is 3.5 kilometres below the icy surface and has been sealed off from the world for 14 million years. It’s been completely isolated from the 150 other subglacial lakes on the content for an extremely long time. A team from the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St Petersburg in Russia has been trying to drill into the lake since 1990 and has finally succeeded.
An early examination of water samples taken from the subglacial lake near the South Pole have found bacteria not known to exist anywhere else on Earth. The species do not belong to any of the 40 or so known subkingdoms of bacteria, according to a researcher from the Laboratory of Eukaryote Genetics. Sergei Bulat.
Bulat told Russian news agency Ria Rovosti: “After excluding all known contaminants… we discovered bacterial DNA that does not match any known species listed in global databanks. We call it unidentified and ‘unclassified’ life.”
Several samples of the same species of bacterium were found in the water that was frozen onto the end of the drill that penetrated the lake in 2012. The match between the new DNA and any other known organisms was never more than 86 percent. A 90 percent match is still significant enough to indicate a new species. Further tests are still needed, but the team is confident that the microorganism doesn’t fit any of the existing main categories in its taxonomic domain.
Prior to drilling into the lake, biologists had hoped to find unique extremophiles living in its highly oxygenated water. Any life forms would have to withstand enormous pressure, extreme low pressure and a complete lack of sunlight.
This finding goes against a previous study, published in 2012, which found no life forms. The data will need to be scrutinised and verified by other experts.
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The Lost World of Lake Vostok
It sometimes seems as if our planet has no secrets left – but deep beneath the great Antarctic ice sheet scientists have made an astonishing discovery. They’ve found one of the largest lakes in the world. It’s very existence defies belief. Scientists are desperate to get into the lake because its extreme environment may be home to unique flora and fauna, never seen before, and NASA are excited by what it could teach us about extraterrestrial life. But 4 kilometers of ice stand between the lake and the surface, and breaking this seal without contaminating the most pristine body of water on the planet is possibly one of the greatest challenges science faces in the 21st century.
In 1957 the Russians established a remote base in Antarctica – the Vostok station. It soon became a byword for hardship – dependent on an epic annual 1000km tractor journey from the coast for its supplies. The coldest temperature ever found on Earth (-89°C) was recorded here on the 21st July 1983. It’s an unlikely setting for a lake of liquid water. But in the 1970’s a British team used airborne radar to see beneath the ice, mapping the mountainous land buried by the Antarctic ice sheet. Flying near the Vostok base their radar trace suddenly went flat. They guessed that the flat trace could only be from water. It was the first evidence that the ice could be hiding a great secret.
But 20 years passed before their suspicions were confirmed, when satellites finally revealed that there was an enormous lake under the Vostok base. It is one of the largest lakes in the world – at 10,000 square km it’s about the extent of Lake Ontario, but about twice as deep (500m in places). The theory was that it could only exist because the ice acts like a giant insulating blanket, trapping enough of the earth’s heat to melt the very bottom of the ice sheet.