Extremophile Hunt Begins in Antarctica, Implications for Exobiologists

An expedition has set off for Antarctica’s Lake Untersee in the quest to find bacteria living in one of the most extreme environments on Earth. The bacteria-hunting team are looking for a basic lifeform in a highly toxic location. Resembling the chemistry of Mars, moons of Jupiter and Saturn, even comets, the ice-covered lake may hold some clues to how life might survive, thrive even, beyond the “normality” of our planet.

Lake Untersee is a strange place. For starters, it is always covered in ice. Secondly, the water’s pH level is so alkali that it resembles bleach rather than regular lake water. And third, it produces methane on a scale that dwarfs any other source on Earth. In fact, the chemistry of this terrestrial location has been likened to the high alkalinity, high methane environments on Mars, frozen moons and comets in our solar system neighborhood.

We already know that extreme life can thrive in the superheated conditions along volcanic vents in the oceans and they can live quite happily in nuclear reactors. Some bacteria are content to be frozen for over 30,000 years before they are thawed to continue life as if nothing had happened. So the search continues… can life thrive in conditions where the pH (a measure of a substances acidity or alkalinity) is considered to be toxic to life? The head scientist of the Antarctic team, Richard Hoover of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, believes that although we consider life that we know to thrive in the “normal” conditions we know and experience ourselves, this may not be the “norm” for life elsewhere in the cosmos.

One thing we’ve learned in recent years, is that you don’t have to have a ‘Goldilocks’ zone with perfect temperature, a certain pH level, and so forth, for life to thrive.” – Richard Hoover.

The team of US, Russian and Austrian scientists hope to identify additional extreme bacteria to add to their impressive accolade of discoveries. So far, previous teams headed by Hoover have found new species and genera of anaerobic microbial extremophiles in the ice and permafrost of Alaska, Siberia, Patagonia, and Antarctica. Now they hope to find life that is hardy enough to deal not only with the extreme cold of the Antarctic, but also with the “normally” poisonous pH and high methane in Lake Untersee. This will characterize the signature of extreme life, a great help to exobiologists when results come in from future life-hunting missions to Mars and other planetary bodies.

With our research this year, we hope to identify some new limits for life in terms of temperature and pH levels. This will help us decide where to search for life on other planets and how to recognize alien life if we actually find it.” – Hoover.

Source: Physorg.com

19 Replies to “Extremophile Hunt Begins in Antarctica, Implications for Exobiologists”

  1. I think maybe we are overlooking the fact that life once established is very adaptable. To say that life could “develop” under these conditions simply overlooks the fact of evolution. I think only if these so called “extreme life forms” do not share the DNA structure like all other lifeforms on this planet and cannot be linked to other life then we could feel secure that life of some form could develop in extreme conditions

  2. A day will come, when the increased ability to search for planetary objects is going to collide head on with exobiology. These two fields are quite exciting and the limits of our imagination will be pierced and expanded at an exponential rate. Once labeled “Wild West” fields of study are going to be producing jaw dropping changes to our current parameters as to life and where it exists.

  3. Maybe we should also look for non-carbon/oxygen based life. We may be living in the middle of a pool of life forms we have yet to recognize. Who is looking for silicon/oxygen, or iron/whatever life? Then it may be that we will not or can not recognize other life because we have no way to test or set standards of life in other forms. But, let’s keep looking. We may very well be the alien invaders living on top of the natural and original life on earth. Kinda scifi, huh?

  4. Life is adaptable because the Lord made it so. This silly talk of evolution (a ridiculous theory at best) keeps popping up whenever the “scientists” can’t find answers. Wake up “scientists” the answer has been around a long, long, time. Find something better to do with your time, other than miseducating generations. What a waste of time, money, energy and faith.

  5. What I like best is how the LORD created the Earth about six thousand years ago? …but cleverly disguised all the evidence (verily; a mountain) to LOOK like the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Ha-ha! What a kidder!

    It’s best not to argue with the creationists; sorry, “intelligent design” people, as they do not understand nor respect the scientific method and, to them, their argument is air tight.

  6. when is someone going to explain to these “creationists” what the accepted definition of theory really is? the phrase it’s just a theory sounds so ridiculous to me, and i am not the only one.

  7. Evolution is not ‘ a ridiculous theory at best ‘. All the evidence is there. Thinking evolution isn’t real is completely stupid. I’m not saying God isn’t real but evolution is very real.

  8. exobiology is actually the incorrect term to use. Since they are studying extreme lifeforms on earth, I do not thing “exo” which means outside should be appled there. Astrobiology is a more correct term actually there is a whole field called Astrobiology and it has pretty much done away with the term Exobiology.


  9. Evolution is an observation – nothing that is to be challenged from a rational point of view. The only theory is how evolution works!
    Regarding the term Exobiology: It was originally given to aim on extraterrestrial biology. However, since the best and simplest way to study the limits of life and other issues is to do research on earth, the name for this field was replaced by Astrobiology.

  10. Who says god didn’t create evolution or even the big bang, to all you creationism beleivers. But thats not what I’m talking about.

    Dave and UNdistinguished probably have the best idea about this and that how most scientists veiws of life are very close-minded.

    Lastly, I was thinking about the origin of life yesterday after a science class on atomic bonding and reactions and realized that life is quite simply an Extremely complex chain reaction of atoms bonding, reacting and forming energy. After all, when we put food in our stomachs, our stomach cells don’t “think” to break down our meal and turn it into energy and make new cells. This also led me to realize that DNA isn’t really “read” but it is just another part of the chain reaction.
    This lead me to question whether we are as “alive” as vinigar and baking soda or a burning log.

    If there is anybody reading this that can communicate it with many others, please do.

  11. N Stone didn’t take it far enough. Matter is energy. When energy “clumps up” so to speak, it turns into matter. When matter unclumps it returns to energy. I guess I’m not converting enough matter because I don’t seem to have enough energy. At least that’s what my wife says.

    Creationist / Intelligent Design people may be right, sort of… God may be the intelligent source. But, the how, when, and even where is not specified in the Bible nor any other source from God. Scientist on the other hand seem to be giving us the how, the when and the where. No conflict in my mind. Just the same story looked at from two different directions.

  12. every other country in the world is petrified of usa. this creationist garbage is practiced nowhere else in the world. especially when your prospective presidents have to be believers!!!! my city, glasgow, scotland is full to the bursting of american scientists who had to leave usa because they are humanists, aetheists, etc, but very nice people. you will find americans all over europe in the same boat. you guys are sleepwalking into the “reformation”. remember gallileo had to recant his theories to stay alive! be very afraid my american chums.

  13. re previous comments. google reformation scotland. death, gore, non-believers, all that 14th century stuff.

  14. I erred in using the term “evolution” I thought this colum was read by scientific minded readers, It was not my intent to intiate a religious debate. I for one appreciate the questioning minds of scientists. I thurst for knowledge

  15. My favorite scientists have been quite believers in their religion, and my favorite religious leaders had the open minds to see and believe the sciences and their proofs.

    New lifeforms have been discovered all over this world, even when the scientists said,”It couldn’t be. they just don’ come in that form!”

    Let’s all keep an open mind. We’ll get along a lot easier that way, too!!

  16. Oh, my! Disrespectin’ evolutionists in an election year, how cliche! Scientific studies are the facts of how and why and what if. So if there is concrete proof of evolution (look outside your window Elijah- I do admire your guts though!), why is it so hard to believe that the bible was meant for morality issues in the times it was written in? It made sense when the Greeks and Romans were engaging in orgies all the time. Look how long it took humanity to advance in medicines and Science after an alternative to religion was PROVEN. IF I could travel back in time to change just one thing, it would be to introduce Logical Science 100,000 years ago. Imagine the world with religion having a bare minimum of history and effect. Technology would be 4000 years more advanced, and humanity would have one less reason to kill each other and go to war. What would terrorists kill themselves for? Just virgins? It’s very amusing that ALL major religions are based on the same stories/ characters & virtually the same time frames. Just different languages. All the stories were written and embelished by different opinions depending on the message of the day. Oh yeah, and opinions are like ______’s, everybody has one. (fill in the blank-many words fit!)

  17. Dave, you didn’t initiate the religious debate, Elijah did. Luckily, if you put up with a few crackpot blog entries (read: ignore them) then yes, the rest of us have the capability to debate logically without reducing every discussion to “why discuss…it is the will of Landrew.”

  18. This is very up-to-date information. I think I’ll share it on Facebook.

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