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Underground Antarctic lake may contain samples of prehistoric life

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 8th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Previously thought to be sterile and inhospitable to life, some American scientists now believe that Antarctica's largest and deepest underground lake, Lake Vostok could contain thousands of different tiny organisms -- even fish. A computer analysis of DNA sequences from ice samples proved that Lake Vostok contains a diverse set of microbes, as well as some multi-cellular organisms.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The icy darkness of Lake Vostok, cut off from the outside world for 15 million years, kept under 3,700 meters of ice, provides a glimpse of Earth before the Ice Age.

Researchers from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, now suggest that the lake harbors plenty of life from bacteria, to complex organisms.

Over 3,500 DNA sequences were identified in samples of ice extracted from the ice, of which 95 percent were associated with types of bacteria. The remaining five percent of the samples contained hints of more complex organisms, called eukaryokes. Two of them were linked to one-called organisms called archaea.
 
Bowling Green State University professor of biological sciences, Dr. Scott Rogers along with his colleagues found sequences that are similar to types of fungi as well as water fleas, arthropods and a mollusk.

Some of the bacteria discovered were commonly found in "fish guts," suggesting that there could be fish in the subterranean lake, according to the research published in the PLOS ONE journal.

"The bounds of what is habitable and what is not are changing," Rogers said.

Located 800 miles from the South Pole and 35 million years ago, when the climate was warmer, Lake Vostok was thought to have been open to the air and surrounded by forests.

"At that time, the lake probably contained a complex network of organisms," researchers said. They think that the organisms were sealed in the lake, which is around a quarter of a mile deep, by the thick ice approximately 15 million years ago.

"While the current conditions are different than earlier in history, the lake seems to have maintained a surprisingly diverse community of organisms.

"These organisms may have slowly adapted to the changing conditions in Lake Vostok during the past 15 to 35 million years when the lake converted from a terrestrial system to a sub glacial system."

Several of the sequences are similar to organisms that live near deep sea thermal vents, leading researchers to believe that Lake Vostok might contain similar features in its icy depths.

"Hydrothermal vents could provide sources of energy and nutrients vital for organisms living in the lake," the scientists said.

The researchers are adamant that they took great pains to prevent contamination of their samples and said that the various sequences were the type that many scientists expected to see in a sub glacial lake.

"Most of the organisms appear to be aquatic (freshwater), and many are species that usually live in ocean or lake sediments," Rogers said.

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