- Russian scientists have discovered ‘unknown’ bacteria that has never been seen before
- Discovery made in the waters of the unique sub-glacial Lake Vostok
By Mark Prigg
PUBLISHED: 06:59 EST, 8 March 2013 | UPDATED: 11:58 EST, 8 March 2013
Russian scientists believe they may have discovered new life forms sealed off for 14 million years in a subglacial lake deep under the Antarctic ice.
Scientists say the icy darkness of Lake Vostok, under 3,700 metres of ice, may provide a glimpse of the planet before the Ice Age and clues to life on other planets.
‘After excluding all known contaminants, bacterial DNA was found that does not match any known species in world databases,’ Sergei Bulat of the St Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute told a Russian news agency.
‘If it (the bacteria) had been found on Mars, then without a doubt we would have said there is life on Mars – but this is DNA from Earth,’ he said.
‘We are calling this life form unidentified or unclassified.’
The Russian discovery came from analysing water that froze onto the end of the drill bit used to bore through to Vostok – the largest of a network of hundreds of lakes under the ice cap that acts like a blanket trapping the Earth’s geothermal heat.
Bulat told RIA that scientists are waiting for more samples from the lake to confirm their discovery.
Because of the technology used to keep from polluting the pristine lake, Russia will only obtain clean water samples – uncontaminated by drilling fluid – for analysis later this year.
To answer concerns kerosene and anti-freeze from the borehole would seep into the lake, Russian engineers withdrew the drill to allow the water to percolate up into the borehole and freeze there, only returning this year to collect it.
But Bulat said the unknown microbes were found after separating out species of bacteria that are known to exist in the drilling fluid.
‘When we tried to identify the DNA, it did not coincide with any known species. It’s degree of similarity was less than 86 percent,’ Bulat told RIA.
‘That is practically zero when working with DNA. A level of 90 percent tells us the organism is unknown.’
Frozen samples from deeper in the borehole collected during this year’s Antarctic summer season in February are now being carried back by boat and are due in St Petersburg in May.
‘If we again identify the same group of organism in that pure sample of water, then we can confidently say we have found new life on Earth,’ Bulat said.
Scientists from the United States and Britain are close on Moscow’s heels to probe what life may exist in one of the most extreme environments on Earth.
Vostok Station was set up by the Russians in 1956, and their seismic soundings soon suggested there was an area of liquid underneath.
However, Russian specialists, supported by their British counterparts, finally discovered Lake Vostok in 1996.
Sonar and satellite images later proved the lake to be one of the world’s largest freshwater reservoirs.
With its area reaching 15,000 sq. km and a depth exceeding 1,200 meters, Lake Vostok is one of the biggest among 370 sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica.
This year, a U.S. expedition said they had seen living cells under a microscope in field samples taken from the shallower subglacial Lake Whillans, but more study is needed to determine what kinds of bacteria they are and how they live.
A British effort to reach a third body, Lake Ellsworth, was called off in December because of problems drilling.
What life is found in the icy depths may provide the best answer yet to whether life can exist in the extreme conditions on Mars or Jupiter’s moon Europa.
In February Russian researchers became the first in the world to reach the waters of Lake Vostok after more than decades of drilling work.
They managed to reach the fresh ice at a depth of 3383 meters and took samples at 3,406 meters. Ice formed as the water from the lake rose into the hole due to upward-pressure in the crack researchers drilled last February.
Last year Russian scientists managed to drill through 3700 meters of ice, reach the surface of the lake and take 40 liters of prehistoric water.
Russian specialists, supported by their British counterparts, discovered Lake Vostok back in 1996. Sonar and satellite images later proved the lake to be one of the world’s largest freshwater reservoirs.
With its area reaching 15,000 sq km and a depth exceeding 1,200 metres, Lake Vostok is one of the biggest among 370 sub-glacial lakes in Antarctica.
In 1998 scientists had to halt the drilling just 130 metres from the lake’s surface after alarming concerns the ancient and unblemished waters risked being polluted if special precautions were not taken.
The relevant technology was developed only in 2003 in St. Petersburg, and work resumed in 2005 after further tests.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2290159/Has-Russia-new-form-life-underground-antarctic-lake.html#ixzz2MyVPyr5D