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Antarctic microbes thrive under lake ice

3:35 PM, Nov 27, 2012   |    comments
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In a world without sunlight, microbes still seem to thrive in an Antarctic lake iced over for at least 2,800 years, biologists report.

Lake Vida, a chilly brine pool covered by more than 50 feet of ice, resides in East Antarctica. Biologists led by Alison Murray of the Desert Research Institute in Reno report that 2005 and 2010 core samples reveal aquatic microbes thrive in its yellowish waters, in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's an extreme environment, the thickest lake ice on the planet, and the coldest, most stable cryo-environment on Earth," says Michigan State University study co-author Nathaniel Ostrom, in a statement.

The microbes thrive despite 8 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, 20% salinity in the brine and high concentrations of ammonia and sulfur. They likely live off of chemical reactions with hydrogen in the lake water.

The lake and its unusual bugs, the researchers suggest, help show that life could survive elsewhere on frozen worlds beyond our own planet.

According to the study, the find "is a potential analog for habitats on other icy worlds," such as Jupiter's moon Europa or Saturn's geyser-spewing moon Enceladus.

Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Gannett/USA Today

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