Scientists discover ‘new life’ forms below Antarctic ice

After more than a decade of stop-and-go drilling, Russia pierced through Antarctica's frozen crust last year and took back samples of water from a vast lake that has lain untouched for at least 14-million years, news agency RIA reported on Thursday.

Scientists say the icy darkness of Lake Vostok, some 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 said.

"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."

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.

This year, a US 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.

Blanket trapping geothermal heat
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.

The Russia 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 regarding kerosene and anti-freeze from the borehole seeping into the lake, Russia's 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 of known species. It's degree of similarity was less than 86%," Bulat said.

"That is practically zero when working with DNA. A level of 90% 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. – Reuters

Advertisting

Hlophe complaint is an eerie echo

But the new complaint against the Western Cape judge president is also unprecedented

Mabuza contract grows by R10m

Eskom’s negotiators in a R100-million maintenance contract came back with a proposal to push up the costs

‘There were no marks on his neck’, Neil Aggett inquest...

The trade unionist’s partner at the time he was detained at John Vorster Square says she now believes his death was not a suicide
Advertising

Press Releases

Boosting safety for cargo and drivers

The use of a telematics system for fleet vehicles has proved to be an important tool in helping to drive down costs and improve efficiency, says MiX Telematics Africa.

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Silencing the guns and firearms amnesty

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

Gender-based violence is an affront to our humanity

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

UK-Africa investment summit 2020: Think Africa Invest SA

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.