Monday, June 15, 2009

Previously-Unknown Bacteria Species 120,000 Years Under Ice - and Alive

"Microbe Wakes Up After 120,000 Years"
LiveScience (June 15, 2009)

"After more than 120,000 years trapped beneath a block of ice in Greenland, a tiny microbe has awoken. The long-lasting bacteria may hold clues to what life forms might exist on other planets.

"The new bacteria species was found nearly 2 miles (3 km) beneath a Greenland glacier, where temperatures can dip well below freezing, pressure soars, and food and oxygen are scarce.

" 'We don't know what state they were in,' said study team member Jean Brenchley of Pennsylvania State University. 'They could've been dormant, or they could've been slowly metabolizing, but we don't know for sure.'..."

As my oldest daughter said, when I told her about this article, 'that reminds me of some Stargate Atlantis episodes.' There is a sort of science-fictionish air to this bit of news: but it's all quite real.

It took a bit of doing to coax the bacteria back to what we regard as a normally lively condition. And the effort should be worthwhile: there's a lot to learn from the new species.

These bacteria are quite small - for bacteria - which could give them a number of advantages. One of the pluses to being tiny is that they could live "...among ice crystals and in the thin liquid film on those surfaces...."

The article mentions another new species of bacteria found nearby.

For me, one of the more interesting possibilities is that studying these tiny creatures could help us speculate on how life could live on worlds that aren't quite like Earth. And, once we (or, more likely, our robot explorers) get there, what to look for.

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