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Ancient Ecosystem Found In Ice Pocket

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the so-it's-not-a-traditional-honeymoon-suite dept.

Earth 49

ApharmdB writes "Beneath a glacier in Antarctica, scientists have discovered a community of microbes growing in frigid pools of salty water. It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no oxygen, and extremely cold temperatures. But the microbes appear to live — and thrive — off a combination of iron and sulfur, according to a new study. The result of that strange metabolism is a brilliant red streak of cascading ice called Blood Falls."

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Well (0, Redundant)

Stormcrow309 (590240) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611137)

I, for one, welcome our new Blood Ice Masters... at least until I get the blow torch out. It is neat to see where life will thrive.

Similarity (4, Interesting)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611209)

A red streak, huh? Looking at the picture, it's sort of a orange-red rust color. A rust-colored streak in the middle of a bunch of ice. What does it remind me of? Ah, yes [nasa.gov] .

Re:Similarity (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611339)

I suppose we'd better tell any boats in the area to avoid landing there, eh?

How did it first appear? (0)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611449)

I think all these considerations about extremophiles showing the possibility of life in other planets rather unsound.

There's no evidence that life could ever appear in such environments starting from abiotic conditions, it seems pretty obvious these organisms evolved from more benign habitats.

Re:How did it first appear? (4, Interesting)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611563)

There's no evidence that life could ever appear in such environments starting from abiotic conditions, it seems pretty obvious these organisms evolved from more benign habitats.

Like, say, a moon that's crunchy on the outside, but warm on the inside? With lots of organics and water?

I don't think Europa is a perfect haven for biology, but I can easily imagine a race somewhere that has a complete explanation for how they evolved under an ice crust, and that would scoff at the notion of life on the exposed, irradiated, violent surface of a planet...

Re:How did it first appear? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27615731)

I don't think Europa is a perfect haven for biology, but I can easily imagine a race somewhere that has a complete explanation for how they evolved under an ice crust, and that would scoff at the notion of life on the exposed, irradiated, violent surface of a planet...

I'm not sure I would consider slashdotters a "race", but I for one and comforted by my maternal subterranean lair, and agree with the above statement.

Re:How did it first appear? (1)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611681)

Like the nice, safe, warm, possibly sulfur-filled depths of the ocean beneath Europa's frozen surface?

Re:How did it first appear? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27615655)

Where there is food, something will be there to eat it, for as long as it continues to feed it.

Re:Similarity (1)

b0ttle (1332811) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611573)

Reminds me of Mars [universetoday.com] .

Re:Similarity (1)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 5 years ago | (#27616107)

Why does it remind you of a false color image?

Re:Similarity (1)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 5 years ago | (#27616975)

Because, if you actually read the linked page, you'll see that the rust-colored streaks show up even on accurate color images. The false-color ones are clearly marked as such.

Re:Similarity (1)

blincoln (592401) | more than 5 years ago | (#27616735)

A rust-colored streak in the middle of a bunch of ice. What does it remind me of? Ah, yes [nasa.gov].

That is really interesting. It's obviously not as good as a true spectrograph, but it would be worth comparing the false-colour images NASA has on that same page with similar ones taken of rust (or ideally the Blood Falls) here on Earth to see if they match up. I can do that myself, minus the Blood Falls part (unless someone wants to pony up for a ticket). Maybe this weekend?

is this how the zombie apocalypse starts? (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611211)

with an organism from an ice pocket?

The red death is coming.

Re:is this how the zombie apocalypse starts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27611579)

Better than black oil.

Oh wait.

Re:is this how the zombie apocalypse starts? (1)

nametaken (610866) | more than 5 years ago | (#27619021)

Sorry, even here that joke is too old.

Missing option (4, Funny)

codeButcher (223668) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611219)

Ancient Ecosystem Found...

from the so-it's-not-a-traditional-honeymoon-suite dept.

... discovered a community of microbes ... It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no oxygen, and extremely cold temperatures. But the microbes appear to live -- and thrive -- off a combination of iron and sulfur, according to a new study.

Pray tell, have they thought about looking in CowboyNeal's belly button yet?

Can this be replicated for classroom use? (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611227)

How easy would it be to grow these microbes in a lab?

I'm thinking zoos or classrooms would be good places for them.

"Now children, who wants to feed the iron eating microbes?"

Before any of this can happen I'd want a safety study. If these living creatures are harmful to plants, animals, or the other living creatures we depend on, then it's probably a no-go.

Re:Can this be replicated for classroom use? (3, Insightful)

oneirophrenos (1500619) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611321)

If these living creatures are harmful to plants, animals, or the other living creatures we depend on, then it's probably a no-go.

This is extremely unlikely. For a microbe to be able to live within another organism, it would have to have gone through generations and generations of mutation-driven evolution so that it would not be instantly killed by its host's immune system.

Re:Can this be replicated for classroom use? (4, Funny)

CorporateSuit (1319461) | more than 5 years ago | (#27615975)

This is extremely unlikely. For a microbe to be able to live within another organism, it would have to have gone through generations and generations of mutation-driven evolution so that it would not be instantly killed by its host's immune system.

Things have changed. Now all they need is a good lawyer and they press charges against the immune system. The immune system is issued a cease and desist, and the microbes receive special protection under the state constitution against any further incursion from the immune system onto the microbes' new home.

Re:Can this be replicated for classroom use? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27619367)

Do my tax dollars pay for these immigrant microbes to sit around living off the system?

Impressive, but the real question is (0)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611271)

where do the sulfur and iron come from? Neither the blurb or TFA say.

I assume microorganism locked up in ice, no matter how hardy, can't find anything but frozen water in their environment. And looking at the size of the "blood falls", they're not just feeding on some trace elements that happened to be there when the ice formed.

Re:Impressive, but the real question is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27611355)

TFA says from the ground, nice work RTFA.

Re:Impressive, but the real question is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27613945)

I assume microorganism locked up in ice, no matter how hardy, can't find anything but frozen water in their environment. And looking at the size of the "blood falls", they're not just feeding on some trace elements that happened to be there when the ice formed.

TFA mentions that the glacier appears to have formed over what once was a saltwater lake, so it seems likely that either the iron and sulfur were disloved in the water when the lake was formed, or it was leeched from the ground containing this lake afterwards.

Another interesting observation is that these micro-organisms appear to be genetically related to some current marine micro-organisms. They estimate that these species seperated from a common anscestor are about 1.5 million years ago. Considering their metabolism is described as being based on previously unknown bio-chemistry, they must have evolved an entirely new method to get energy in relatively short amount of time!

Re:Impressive, but the real question is (1)

Opyros (1153335) | more than 5 years ago | (#27615515)

According to Ars [arstechnica.com] ,

The authors posit that the glacier itself might provide the source by extracting new iron as it scrapes across the underlying rocks.

Re:Impressive, but the real question is (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 5 years ago | (#27623355)

TFA states the iron leaches from the bedrock, I presume the sulphur does too.

Looks more like... (4, Funny)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611275)

After looking at the picture I imagine they are calling it Blood Falls because Diarrhea Falls wouldn't be quite so compelling.

My discovery (4, Funny)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611291)

That's nothing. I've discovered programmers working in grey cubicals of resolute despair. It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no personal hygiene, and extremely bad management. But the programmers appear to live -- and thrive -- off a combination of electricity and light, according to a new study. The result of that strange metabolism is the brilliant ability to avoid work called "Reading Slashdot".

Re:My discovery (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27611515)

That's nothing. I've discovered programmers working in grey cubicals of resolute despair. It's a particularly tough environment, with no light, no personal hygiene, and extremely bad management. But the programmers appear to live -- and thrive -- off a combination of electricity and light, according to a new study. The result of that strange metabolism is the brilliant ability to avoid work called "Reading Slashdot".

My god, where are you ? How'd you know where to find me ?

Re:My discovery (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#27613339)

That's nothing. I've discovered programmers working in grey cubicals of resolute despair.

I used to work with an engineer who would buy breakfast burritos containing pork, then leave them on top of his monitor to keep them warm, sometimes until the next day. I would be surprised not to find a complete ecosystem in his pockets.

its wrong to say 'isolated' (1)

tkjtkj (577219) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611391)

If materials from this sub-glacial lake do seep out to the surface, as the photo seems to show, how on earth can we say the lake is 'isolated'? The proper term might be: contaminated! yes, the degree of contamination might be small, but this is 'science', no?

Completely offtopic but... (1)

denzacar (181829) | more than 5 years ago | (#27624455)

I just want to say "thank you" for that sig.

Wanted to point it out myself to all those that find "There are 10 kinds of people..."-line brilliant enough to keep copy/pasting it around but as I fall in that last group you mentioned...

Only Microbes... (1)

INeededALogin (771371) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611605)

Are we sure their isn't more. How can science say this without getting Brendan Fraser involved. Science has failed us again.

Pockets are amazing places... (1)

Mishotaki (957104) | more than 5 years ago | (#27611829)

You'd be surprised to know what's in my pockets...

Re:Pockets are amazing places... (2, Funny)

Old Grey Beard (869804) | more than 5 years ago | (#27612947)

String ... or nothing!

Re:Pockets are amazing places... (1)

Pfhorrest (545131) | more than 5 years ago | (#27621133)

Eggses, precious. Eggses in its pocketses.

Reminds me of a Dan Brown book (1)

ilikebees (1382425) | more than 5 years ago | (#27612065)

Re:Reminds me of a Dan Brown book (1)

ciroknight (601098) | more than 5 years ago | (#27616313)

That was quite honestly the worst piece of garb..literature he wrote, though.

Isolated, but (1)

tygerstripes (832644) | more than 5 years ago | (#27612093)

I doubt even they were unaffected by the Credit Crunch.

Does this setup remind anyone of Mars? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27612795)

Lets see... cold, no available oxygen, small pools of salty subsurface water, no useful available light, abundant iron (though I don't know about the Sulfur concentration in Mars' soil, but there's probably some somewhere on the planet)... I'm pretty sure that exactly describes Mars. If this life can thrive here, I would say that's a strong case for the possibly on Mars, in addition to Europa.

Thaw out the New Plague! (1)

itomato (91092) | more than 5 years ago | (#27613797)

I'm waiting for one of these pockets of entombed microbes to contain the most heinous superbug ever confronted by humanity.

(mu ha ha ha)

But seriously, I can't help but feel it's possible for something to have been cooped up so long that we have zero defenses, as though a meteor hand-delivered a fresh batch of Space Flu.

Re:Thaw out the New Plague! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27616687)

That works both ways - bacteria that are too foreign will not be able to survive in the human body. Especially things like these - they live in sub-freezing, completely dark, extremely salty areas and live on iron and sulfur.

There's not a chance that they are going to be able to survive in an environment that is 60-70 degrees F warmer, virtually no salt or sulfur, only a bit of iron, and highly oxygenated.

These are about the last things that we need to worry about becoming a "superbug".

Rød Snø! (1)

Keith_Beef (166050) | more than 5 years ago | (#27614183)

Zombies in the ice?

K.

Re:Rød Snø! (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 5 years ago | (#27618027)

It rather reminds me of X-Files: Ice [wikipedia.org] ;)

Arthur C. Clarke FTW (3, Interesting)

NonUniqueNickname (1459477) | more than 5 years ago | (#27614511)

Maybe no one has read it. In Odyssey 3001 (The Final Odyssey) Clarke wrote about a sulfur-based life forms on Jupiter's Europa moon.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke FTW (2, Informative)

oneirophrenos (1500619) | more than 5 years ago | (#27614949)

Maybe no one has read it. In Odyssey 3001 (The Final Odyssey) Clarke wrote about a sulfur-based life forms on Jupiter's Europa moon.

This particular microbe, however, is not sulfur-based. "Sulfur-based" would indicate that its molecules are largely built out of sulfur (as ours are of carbon), whereas these microbes only utilize sulfur in their energy production.

Re:Arthur C. Clarke FTW (2, Informative)

NonUniqueNickname (1459477) | more than 5 years ago | (#27615237)

Sorry, I misspoke when I said "Sulfur-based". The Europa critters in Odyssey 3001 metabolized sulfur, not sure of their composition. They were also said to be slower than earth life-forms, because metabolizing sulfur isn't as intensive as metabolizing oxygen.

Similar to.. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27618105)

They also have similar "red snow" in the glaciers of the high sierra. Although in the high sierra's, the sun is extremely intense.
http://waynesword.palomar.edu/plaug98.htm [palomar.edu]

Eating the past, with relish (3, Interesting)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 5 years ago | (#27627011)

"In 1949 some friends and I came upon a noteworthy news item in Nature, a magazine of the Academy of Sciences. It reported in tiny type that in the course of excavations on the Kolyma River a subterranean ice lens had been discovered which was actually a frozen stream-and in it were found frozen specimens of prehistoric fauna some tens of thousands of years old. Whether fish or salamander, these were preserved in so fresh a state, the scientific correspondent reported, that those present immediately broke open the ice encasing the specimens and devoured them with relish on the spot."

- Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Arachipelago

Link [wnec.edu]
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