Subglacial lake life in Antarctic had once been unprecedented, but now biologists have confirmed extracting mineral-eating microbes from a subglacial lake in the Antarctic. Proof of this subglacial lake life in Antarctic was from a new study published in the journal "Nature." It features a detailed account of how the researchers found life from a lake buried half a mile below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's surface.
According to Scientific American, samples from the lake showed subglacial lake life in Antarctic which has amazingly survived without benefiting from the sun's energy for the past 120,000 years. Although, the scientists said they could have possibly lived for as long as 1 million years.
The study, says multiple reports, offer the first ever look at what could be the largest and uncharted thriving ecosystem on Earth, which only consists 9% of the world's land area.
John Priscu, chief scientist of the project that sampled the lake, said in a news release, "We were able to prove unequivocally to the world that Antarctica is not a dead continen."
In this week's issue of "Nature", Priscu and his team have reported unearthing about 130,000 cells in each milliliter of lake water. This is reportedly a density of microbial life similar to that in much of the world's deep oceans. With nearly 4,000 species of bacteria and archaea, the community of subglacial lake life in Antarctic is said to be much more complex than expected of a world separated from the rest of the planet.
Priscu said, "I was surprised by how rich the ecosystem was. It's pretty amazing."
According to the National Geographic, there already had been earlier claims of similar microbes from a different lake in the Antarctic, however, the study's authors said they were controversial samples since they had been contaminated.
In this new study published in the journal "Nature", scientists took care to prove that the subglacial lake life in Antarctic is not contaminated. The sample from the lake has been through especially careful drilling techniques.
Science World Report says that Priscu and his team pulled their samples from the lake back in early 2013. They reportedly drilled through half a mile of ice in order to reach Subglacial Lake Whillans. They took samples of the lake, after which finding an entire ecosystem of microbes able to function even without sunlight.
The Scientific American reports that over the past year, researchers worked with their samples to pull together an illustration of subglacial lake life in Antarctic. They isolated and grew cultures of about a dozen species of microbe.
They also used DNA sequencing to prove the subglacial lake life in Antarctic, and the scientists discovered the community to be made up mostly of archaea. They found signs of 3,931 species in all, many of which are linked to microbes breaking down minerals for energy.
At the time, Priscu, one of the author of the new paper and chief biologist of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) program, told "Nature" that "Lake Whillans definitely harbors life."
Many subglacial archaeas reportedly use energy in the chemical bonds of ammonium to fix carbon dioxide and function with other metabolic processes. Another group of microorganisms then uses the energy and carbon in methane to survive. It is believed that the ammonium and methane came from the breakdown of organic matter deposited in the Antarctic hundreds of thousands of years ago when the place was warmer.
A landmark for the polar sciences as described by geochemist Martyn Tranter at the University of Bristol in England, the discovery of this subglacial lake life in Antarctic is also a landmark in the science of astrobiology, the search for life on other worlds, according to NatGeo.
This new discovery of subglacial lake life in Antarctic Lake Whillans, a 6-foot-deep, 20-square-mile body of water, kept liquid by heat from the bedrock below and friction from glaciers moving over that bedrock, reportedly adds to the possibilities.
Tranter writes that the authors' findings "beg the question of whether microbes could eat rock beneath ice sheets on extraterrestrial bodies such as Mars."
In recent years, scientists have been recognizing the fact that life can happen in a number of other places they once believed uninhabitable. This understanding led to the suggestion that extraterrestrial life may also exist in places once thought derelict.
Still, chances are slim that Priscu and his team might find animals in Lake Whillans, reports Scientific American. However, they are planning to look for them using better-tailored DNA assays. For now, the origins of the subglacial lake life in Antarctic are still being analyzed by scientists.
Overall, the life in Antarctic's Lake Whillans works like ecosystems at the Earth's surface, though they cannot rely on photosynthesis for energy fixing carbon dioxide dissolved in the lake water.
Lake Whillans is just a small snapshot of the big picture of subglacial lake life in Antarctic, and other teams are reportedly exploring other subglacial lakes to fill in the entirety of the photograph.
Next January, Nat Geo reports that the scientists will be returning to the lake to take samples from a different location, and find out if there are different organisms.
Subglacial lake life in Antarctic shows that life can thrive even in the most inhospitable environments on our planet.
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