Life is possible even in some of the darkest and coldest habit on the Earth, researchers from University of Tennessee have found.
According to the researchers, they have found strong evidence for existence of a complex microbial ecosystem beneath the Antarctic ice.
The study was conducted under a scientific project ‘Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD)’ in 2013 when the team of scientists collected water and sedimentary samples from Subglacial Lake Whillans. The project was funded by National Science Foundation. Subglacial Lake Whillans is a buried lake in Antarctica that has remained isolated from the outside environment for thousands of years.
For the study, the scientists observed and analysed the rocks and sediments from a shallow lake flowing underneath an ice sheet in Antarctica and discovered that the mineral-munching microbial ecosystems were flourishing in the frigid world. This suggested that life can survive even in darkest and coldest environment.
The authors, while writing for the study, said, the lake water analysis indicated that the world under the Antarctic ice sheet supports “a diverse ecosystem that are metabolically active and can function in the dark at subzero temperatures”.
Researcher Jill Mikucki calls the findings a major step towards understanding the evolution of life and their survival in cold-dark environments.
While writing for a paper commentary “News and Views” in Nature’s same issue, Martyn Tranter, a geochemist at the University of Bristol (England), asked, “The findings beg the question of whether microbes could eat rock beneath ice sheets on extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars.”
Tranter was not part of the study.
As Antarctica is a microbial continent, exploring beneath its ice covers can help in better understanding the role of the microorganisms in the functioning of the Earth and other icy worlds in the Solar system.
The study’s findings were published in the latest edition of the science journal Nature.