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Microbial Life Found In Trinidadian Hydrocarbon Lake

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the blame-la-brea dept.

Earth 141

KentuckyFC writes "Pitch Lake is a poisonous, foul-smelling hell hole on the Caribbean island of Trinidad. It is filled with hot asphalt and bubbling with noxious hydrocarbon gases and carbon dioxide. Various scientists have suggested that it is the closest thing on Earth to the kind of hydrocarbon lakes they can see on Saturn's moon Titan. Now a group of researchers has discovered that the lake is teeming with microbial life which is thriving in the oxygen-free environment with very little water, eating hydrocarbons and respiring with metals. Gene sequence analysis indicates that these bugs are single-celled organisms such as archea and bacteria. The researchers say the discovery has exciting implications for the possibility of life on Titan. There is a growing sense that Titan has all the ingredients for life: thermodynamic disequilibrium, abundant carbon-containing molecules, and a fluid environment. There is also evidence that liquid water may not be as important for life as everybody has assumed, since some microorganisms can make their own water by chewing on various hydrocarbons. That may make Titan an even better place to look for life than previously thought."

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holy crap (4, Funny)

martas (1439879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868438)

they found life even there?? what's next, finding living organisms on C-SPAN?

Re:holy crap (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868644)

Hey now, lets try and stay within the realm of logic here...

Re:holy crap (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868812)

I have swum in the water on the surface of the pitch lake. Its not that bad.

Rum and Coca Cola will hide a lot of sins :-)

Re:holy crap (1)

the_womble (580291) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869766)

AT least rum and Coca-cola is one drink. It seems to have escaped the editors that Trinidad and Tobago are TWO islands, but one COUNTRY.

Re:holy crap (1)

flyneye (84093) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869892)

Kinda like New York and New Jersey.

Re:holy crap (2, Informative)

NekSnappa (803141) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870450)

Yeah, but nobody is willing to swim there.

Re:holy crap (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869836)

"I have swum in the water on the surface of the pitch lake."

I believe you.

Apparently the poison is in your system so much so that you are the only person in the world who knows the linkage between swIm, swAm, and swUm.

Re:holy crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31869378)

nope, it's finding living organisms on /.

Re:holy crap (1)

mayberry42 (1604077) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869872)

they found life even there?? what's next, finding living organisms on C-SPAN?

Whoah, there. Let's take baby steps. I'd say the next logical step would be to determine whether Larry King is actually alive. Then Elvis, and then C-SPAN.

Re:holy crap (0, Offtopic)

flyneye (84093) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869884)

Hey! With "Obamas New Space Plan " covered in a /. article a couple articles ago. I got the drift that he himself wanted to go on a mission to boldy go where no man has gone before. We should fill one of his "heavy lift rockets" with a couple tons of Cheetos and Cola, suit him up and sent him to Titan to check things out firsthand. Like next month sometime.

Life was also found... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868442)

in this poisonous, foul smelling, hell hole: http://www.goatse.cx/ [goatse.cx]

Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (5, Interesting)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868454)

More like a poisonous, foul smelling sea of organisms with some asphalt sprinkled on top.
This has a life density comparable to seawater.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (2, Interesting)

martas (1439879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868492)

though based on the description it seems these things are pretty tiny... even for single-celled organisms. i wonder how their average cell mass compares to some of the more usual critters we know and love.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (4, Funny)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868554)

i wonder how their average cell mass compares to some of the more usual critters we know and love.

Well, they're most probably smaller than panda bears.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870724)

Well, they're most probably smaller than panda bears.

I didn't know he was going to talk about bears. Maybe we should leave.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868530)

but, seawater that shouldn't be able to hold life - "shouldn't". As in, our term for what we believe to be livable. Oddly, humans are still enamored by the fact that life can exist beyond our narrow perceptions of what constitutes life. We know nothing about the UNIVERSE around us as far as life goes because we're too focused on finding us-like life, not life period.

If aliens are like us, the whole universe is fucked.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (0)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868538)

Newsflash, the universe doesn't care.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868862)

warhammer 40k :)

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31871028)

Oddly, humans are still enamored by the fact that life can exist beyond our narrow perceptions of what constitutes life

we're too focused on finding us-like life, not life

Make your mind up.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868562)

Depends on where you sample your seawater. But the cells here are much smaller. And Titan is unlikely in my mind given the 200K+ thermal difference. Life is clever, but the laws of physics catch up to you. Besides, we're talking long chain vs short chain hydrocarbons.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868578)

Life is clever, but the laws of physics catch up to you.

Life, as we know it.

Forms of life we've never seen may well be atermal.

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (1)

dwayrynen (304160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869486)

My new meme: If google doesn't know the definition of a word is, it's not a word...
First corallary - if you can't find your word as a domain name with .com appended, it's not a word...

Define "atermal"

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869552)

I meant "athermal".

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (1)

dwayrynen (304160) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870176)

Mea Culpa... Makes sense now. ;-)

Re:Has populations between 10^6 to 10^7 cells/gram (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869874)

I was about to say. If it was a lake of actual asphalt, these nations would have the world's best roads and be raking in millions for hosting F1 races.

Family resemblance? (3, Interesting)

haus (129916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868520)

To the best of my knowledge all life on earth (at least all life that has been investigated at the DNA/RNA level) seems to have considerable similarities, which implies a relationship, perhaps a common origin point.

I wonder. Will this life, which on the surface seems to be fairly different from most of what we know/understand as life will also have such similarities with life as we know it?

If it does, it seems to show a remarkable level of flexibility, beyond what many may have imagined. If not, that may even be more exciting as it may provide support for the idea that the creation of life may not be an exceedingly rare event.

Re:Family resemblance? (0, Troll)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868574)

To the best of my knowledge all life on earth seems to have considerable similarities, which implies a relationship, perhaps a common origin point.

Yes. Just as the sphericity of stars implies they're all related.

Re:Family resemblance? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868954)

They are all related. They're all formed from the same set of physical principles due to being a product of the same universe. It's not a very useful concept, but it's true.

Re:Family resemblance? (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868632)

If not, that may even be more exciting as it may provide support for the idea that the creation of life may not be an exceedingly rare event.

I wouldn't get too excited about that last bit. We need proof that life can originate in an environment commonly found on other planets. Right now all we're finding is that some life on an ecologically rich and abundant planet can evolve into a hostile environment. To use a poor metaphor: There's a difference between us breathing this atmosphere and putting on a scuba tank and going underwater.

Re:Family resemblance? (1)

nashv (1479253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869154)

Unless of course if the panspermia hypothesis turns out to be a factor. Its a big "if", but the fact that life can be this robust increases the chances of it originating in small isolated sweet spots of abundance and then evolving into something that can thrive in what are thought to be largely hostile planets is encouraging. Of course, the felxibility at the molecular level suggests that there are many ways to skin a cat and be "alive".

Re:Family resemblance? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870584)

That was his point. One of the things about life as we know it is that all of it uses the same "handed" stereoisomers (I no longer remember which). Based on what we know now, one would expect that if life started more than once some lifeforms would use the right handed stereoisomers and others would use left handed stereoisomers.

Theological implications (0, Troll)

MoeDumb (1108389) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868652)

"Pitch Lake is a poisonous, foul smelling, hell hole on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. It is filled with hot asphalt and bubbling with noxious hydrocarbon gases and carbon dioxide." ------ The theological implications of this find are simply amazing. Scoffers have long derided as physically impossible passages in the Book of Revelation such as chapters 20 and 21, which speak of everlasting punishment in Hell: “And the Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur . . . (where) they will be tormented forever and ever . . . their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (20:10, 21:8). “Then they will go away to everlasting punishment, but the righteous to everlasting life” (Matthew 25:46). With God altering living human bodies to be punished by – yet not be consumed in -- this environment, the Lake of Fire (Hell) as described in the Bible is not only conceivable but is also now primitively demonstrable to be possible in the present realm.

Clearly, you've never been to Los Angeles (1)

Telephone Sanitizer (989116) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868664)

Scoffers have long derided as physically impossible passages in the Book of Revelation...

They just don't get around.

Re:Theological implications (2, Funny)

Pikoro (844299) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868694)

Wait wait wait. Just wait a second. Are you saying that Hell is in Trinidad and Tobago? I know of worse places that that.

Re:Theological implications (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870116)

No, Hell is on Grand Cayman [google.com] .

Re:Theological implications (2, Funny)

Silfax (1246468) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870144)

Wait wait wait. Just wait a second. Are you saying that Hell is in Trinidad and Tobago? I know of worse places that that.

You must work at the same place I do? Is that you Bob?

Re:Theological implications (2, Funny)

Pikoro (844299) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870672)

Larry? You read slashdot?!?

Re:Theological implications (1)

telomerewhythere (1493937) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870026)

Could you explain how the lake of fire and sulfur can be hell if it 'eats' hell? Revelation 20:14:
"14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. "

Re:Family resemblance? (5, Insightful)

jandersen (462034) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868964)

To the best of my knowledge all life on earth (at least all life that has been investigated at the DNA/RNA level) seems to have considerable similarities, which implies a relationship, perhaps a common origin point.

Which is of course what the theory of evolution tries to explain, with considerable success.

While it is certainly remarkable how flexible life on Earth is, we also have to keep in mind that it has evolved from a common, water-based origin, and the fact that archaea can adapt to living in tar with access to very little water does not mean that life could have started in such an environment.

The thing about water is that it is an altogether remarkable substance; it has a number of properties that are not found together in many other substances - I am certainly not aware of any - and there are reasons to believe that life (at least chemical life as we know it: with DNA/RNA, proteins etc) needs this constellation of properties to arise. We simply don't know if life can arise in other environments; our understanding of what life is at the deepest level is still very patchy.

Meteor hiking (2, Interesting)

DrYak (748999) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869710)

It still should be possible for life to emerge in a more "emergence-compatible" place like Earth (or some even suggest some comets, under specific circumstances), and then be carried to other planets by meteorites impacts, etc.

Imagine a meteorite hitting Earth and ejecting a small amount of tar-growing Titan-compatible bacteria : with an enormous amount of luck, a few surviving spores could end up landing mostly intact on a Titan-like planet.

Re:Family resemblance? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870048)

Actually, we don't have a definite answer on how life started on Earth at all (if it started here). For all we know now, it might as well have been in such tar pits. It might even have been quite hydrophobic initially. Almost certainly oxygen-rich enviroment wasn't a friendly place for it, and look where we are now...

Re:Family resemblance? (2, Informative)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870544)

I’m sorry? Life did start out oxygen- and water-free. Where do you think all that stuff comes from? It’s processed poop. Nothing else.

water (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868534)

"since some microorganisms can make their own water by chewing on various hydrocarbons"

It's a chicken-and-egg issue. Why should something evolve that can create something that it needs to exist in the first place? It doesn't seem to be very likely that something organism evolves out an environment without water, that later needs water. But, it may evolve from a wet environment to a state where it later no longer depends on pre-supplied water.

Re:water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868572)

It's like Dune all over again.

Welcome to Arrakis.

Re:water (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868590)

Why should something evolve that can create something that it needs to exist in the first place? It doesn't seem to be very likely that something organism evolves out an environment without water, that later needs water. But, it may evolve from a wet environment to a state where it later no longer depends on pre-supplied water.

Have you thought of the possibility of an organism that doesn't need water, and still dumps it as byproduct of one of its processes?

A small part of those organisms could then evolve to use that water for a more optimized way of transport, for example. Some coule even evolve so much, they'd require the water, and still produce it.

ta-da!

Oryx (1, Insightful)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868660)

An Oryx doesn't drink water, but it pees.

A chicken does drink water, but it doesn't pee.

Re:Oryx (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868706)

All oryx species prefer near-desert conditions and can survive without water for long periods.

>implying they still need water to live.

Re:Oryx (1)

Abstrackt (609015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870070)

An Oryx doesn't drink water, but it pees.

A chicken does drink water, but it doesn't pee.

Minor nitpick: chickens release urine at the same time as their poop, which is why it's always wet.

Re:Oryx (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870624)

One more nitpick - mammals excrete excess nitrogen in form of urea, which needs to be dissolved in a lot of water, hence the urin. Birds, on the other hand, excrete uric acid, which comes out near crystalline, with much less water.

Re:Oryx (2, Insightful)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870586)

They don't drink but they do ingest water as a constituent of the solid foods they eat. Dessication works as a form of preservation or mummification precisely because practically nothing in nature will eat anything devoid of water.

Going back to the point, water-based life can only evolve in the presence of water. Water-based life faced with an scarcity of water may evolve the ability to synthesise its own water. It could then slowly adapt to survive in a complete absence of water. (Compare with trees, which produce oxygen from carbon-dioxide, but would die in an environment that was initially oxygen.)

If a lifeform evolved to exist on hydrocarbons alone, in the absence of water, then it would have developed an efficient way to do so at a primitive level. It is extremely unlike that a two-step process of creating water would be more efficient. In the long-term, yes, as it would allow Earth-like evolution, but the immediate-term disadvantage would lead to any such strains extinguishing themselves and not getting the chance to go beyond the single cell.

Unlike hot-vent extremophiles, it's hard to argue that these bacteria could be the source of life as they live in hydrocarbons, which are the result of a not-yet-fully-understood process involving dead organic matter.

HAL.

Re:Oryx (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31871088)

Not drinking water does no equate the lack of a requirement for water.

Re:water (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868602)

It doesn't seem to be very likely that something organism evolves out an environment without water, that later needs water

Why does it seem unlikely?

It's ancestors could feasibly have not needed water to exist but produced it as a by product to some other useful function.

Re:water (0, Troll)

Kerstyun (832278) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868702)

Typacal darwinist. Could of, should of, maybe.

oxygen (3, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869938)

Our (very) distant ancestors evolved and thrived in an enviroment without significant amounts of oxygen; heck, it was most likely a poison to them. But then a group dumping it in large amounts showed up, and the rest is history...

Now, it even seems it's quite possible that, what was once a dangerous byproduct, enabled explosion of life later on.

This explains a lot actually.. (2, Funny)

frinkacheese (790787) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868546)

My mother-in-law is from Trinidad, this explains everything. I always thought there was something a little odd about the way she spent so much time filling up the petrol in the car. I thought that odd sulphurous smell was the cream she used for a skin condition.

And all along, she was just a hydrocarbon sucking pitch lake alien!

Lovecraft (1)

leety (1762478) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868610)

That is not dead, which can eternal lie, and there are strange bubbly stinky pits in the Caribbean where even death may die.

necessity of water (1)

Necroloth (1512791) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868692)

I've always wondered why the insistence of water for extra terrestial life... why do you have to base it from whats abundantly around you in your tiny micro speckle of the universe and project it on everything? And now they're finding other types of life forms on earth too? Colour me non-surprised.

Re:necessity of water (2, Insightful)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868854)

... why do you have to base it from whats abundantly around you in your tiny micro speckle of the universe and project it on everything?

You don't. However, if you're going to theorize life without this chemical that plays a crucial role in so many chemical processes that are used by life as we know it, and expect to be taken seriously, you need to find replacements that are likely to exist instead of water in there alien environments and will be able to serve in its stead, or you need to come up with replacement life processes.

Presumably, you've done neither... which would make your speculation on life without water about as scientific as speculating life based on fairy-dust.

Get back to us when you've worked out this possible alien biochemistry, then we can start seeing how viable it would be given the alien environments we might fight the building blocks for it, and how well it operates compared to the processes we know.

Re:necessity of water (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869040)

the reason for us assuming the need for water has nothing to do with projecting our requirements on the rest of the universe.

it has everything to do with water's unquie properties. it's non corrosive, non reactive, is liquid at reasonible temperatues and is able to transport other elements without contamination.

life isn't going to exist at 1000c or -200c, and the mechanics of life ie. a fluid transport mechanism, won't work with solids.

if you can offer a viable alternative i'm all ears

Re:necessity of water (2, Interesting)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869882)

it has everything to do with water's unquie properties.

... as currently assumed by man. Why can't there exist something with simular properties?

There IS a projection though, regularly they find life in a place they did not anticipate. Sulfarlake caves without any sunlight or water? Yep, there's an abundance of life there too.

All the reasoning from on our little sphere and feable concepts mostly very limited to personal understanding and ability to absorb and conceptualize.

The thing which strikes me the most though it the common beginning, the "spark" to light it all up... For all I know or have been told or have read or have been taught, space around us is non-organic. Just a brude collection of basic elements in such a disposition they don't really interact all too much and it's sortof a boring thing, unless you have these massive forces working on eachother.

They've explored planets [wikipedia.org] in our solarsystem, yet it's crudely sterile. Yet, on earth, there's this explosion of life which recurses to both ends (very tiny up to organized configurations building a greater organism) and with each interaction, we shed off some of this life (sweat, skin, hair, we drag around organic matter on our clothes, shoes, leave greasy spots with everything we touch [eg fingerprints], virusses, bacteria, spit, food, ... ).

Yet, when we shoot ourselves up in the sky a bit, sterile to such an extend we could infect it with our organic amusementparks we lug around discharging more organic life, jumping, falling and flying off of us just by literally being there, standing around.

To me, humanity or life isn't just a freak occurence, but maybe we're so poorly equipped and are standing like a mole who crawls up in the upper world and figure "wow, this fast empty vacuum isn't giving me any vibrations I can interprete, this must be the emptyness of space where all life stops to exist.", while if he would have eyes to see and brain to conceptualize, he'll think "fuck, this is awesome! WHAT IS ALL THIS STUFF!"

Re:necessity of water (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870384)

For starters: The GP assertion is based on a faulty perspective.
Water is valuable because it is corrosive and reactive. Water is a near universal solvent, one that can dissolve small amounts of nearly any mineral. Water is a magnetic polar fluid with high surface tension. This is valuable for forming membranes. It is also near the triple point of temperature on earth and its most common solid form is lighter than its liquid form.

The closest alternative to water that we know of is ammonia, it has similar potential as a universal solvent, similar polarity, (I have no idea about surface tension, but it should be similar to water due to its relationship with molecular polarity), but its ice form is more dense than its liquid.

Re:necessity of water (3, Insightful)

schon (31600) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870696)

I don't know what's more amazing - that you can post something that is so wrong, or the fact that someone modded you up.

the reason for us assuming the need for water has nothing to do with projecting our requirements on the rest of the universe.

This is hilarious - you say that projection has nothing to do with it, then you proceed to try to prove this point by projecting human requirements.

it's non corrosive, non reactive

BZZT. Water is very corrosive and reactive. It is known as "the universal solvent" for a reason.

is liquid at reasonible temperatues

How does one define "reasonible"[sp]? Oh yeah - by projecting our own requirements.

life isn't going to exist at 1000c or -200c

More projecting.

the mechanics of life ie. a fluid transport mechanism, won't work with solids.

Aside from the fact that this is just still more projecting, why exactly is water the only substance that fits this bill? Why could another compound not fill the same purpose?

Re:necessity of water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31869764)

Off the top of my head:

  • Water is probably extremely common (Hydrogen is the most common element and Oxygen is produced in quantity as well (CNO cycle [wikipedia.org] )
  • Water ice is lighter than water and floats to the top, so that the fishes and waterplants etc. don't freeze to death in winter/at night because they're shielded by (insulating) ice. This is probably much easier to survive than being embedded in a lump of ice.
  • Water is a polar liquid; it dissolves a lot of stuff, both organics (if they're a little bit polar [wikipedia.org] ) and salts. So it provides a good reaction medium.

Re:necessity of water (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870000)

It's everywhere, not just in our "tiny micro speckle of the universe"; it's what you get when first and third most abundant elements meet.

Curses, our plot is uncovered (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868720)

That, Earthlings, is the replica of our home environment we've set up from where we will launch the conquest of your planet. And, for your information, here on Titan we call that a "five star hotel".

Question: sustaining life v forming (1)

beakerMeep (716990) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868728)

So obviously the requirements for sustaining life may not be exactly the same as those that are required to create it. What I mean is, millions of years ago on earth (or about 6000 years give or take) when that primordial soup formed a few amino acids/protein chain/whatever perhaps that required water? And in the millennial of evolution some of the organisms evolved to live without water. Does this make sense? I guess what I am really asking is how much do we know about the conditions that existed when life on earth was created?

Re:Question: sustaining life v forming (2, Interesting)

bmecoli (963615) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868986)

or perhaps the primordial soup was more closely related to the newly discovered organisms and most of them evolved to the water loving organisms we all know and love today.

poop gold? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31868736)

"eating hydrocarbons and respiring with metals" sounds like they are close to eating global warming and pooping gold. And if they don't than get to that selective breeding.

That may make Titan ... (1)

Artem Tashkinov (764309) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868832)

> That may make Titan an even better place to plant the life than previously thought.

FTFY.

I suppose our own microbes that live in such lakes are descendants of otherwise diverse ecosystem which existed in primordial times and Titan "weather" conditions are far less favourable to life.

Re:That may make Titan ... (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868920)

I was just about to make this very point. Could life on Titan have established itself in those conditions? The question seems to have been missed.

Re:That may make Titan ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31869738)

I don't see why not, lots of energetic elements, liquid, hell, even fairly constant high radiation.
We know of some lifeforms that use radiation for most of their energy needs.
It isn't hard to imagine a lifeform that relies entirely on radiation and just dies after it has offspring.
Of course this is unlikely since there are chemicals all around it, evolution tends to show relations with the chemicals that were around whatever creatures were being examined.

And in relation to grandparent, one thing they'd really need to make sure of when blasting off to Titan in however many decades time is to NOT INFECT THE PLANET.
Chances are whatever came before RNA and DNA were the same things that grew up on Titan and might still be there if it hasn't got off the starting line yet.
Best way to make sure of this would be a double-capsule based ship where one can fit inside the other.
The 2nd capsule is the one launched to the planet from orbit, after it has been cleaned thoroughly and sealed away from everything else.

If we do eventually arrive their and find life, life more exotic than anything on Earth, we may need to rewrite some books...
This just reminded me of that episode of Doctor Who that was on last night where an entire STAR was living.
It has been theorized before to some extent, super creatures living on the surface of the sun. It could happen, we can dream.

Re:That may make Titan ... (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870322)

> Could life on Titan have established itself in those conditions?

If we find life on Titan we will know that it could and did, won't we?

> The question seems to have been missed.

No it hasn't. How do you propose to answer it?

What's the temperature Kenneth? (3, Informative)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#31868950)

The whole problem about comparing this place to Titan is that Titan is extremely cold. Titan's got the materials (except for Nitrogen maybe?), for sure, but, it doesn't have the heat. Life is more of an energy problem than a materials problem. You need energy to roil things, to drive all those chemical reactions and to keep stirring the pot so evolution can take place. I would be more than willing to bet that you would find single cell life on Venus more than on Titan just because Venus has plenty of heat.

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31869428)

"The atmosphere of Titan is largely composed of nitrogen" wikipedia (yes, I know usual disclaimers)

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (5, Insightful)

m0n0RAIL (920043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869622)

I assume then that the interior of the sun would be a good place to look for life, because of all the heat?

You don't need a high temperature to drive the chemistry of life - you need a temperature gradient so that work can be done by transferring heat energy from one location to another. Titan has this due to internal heating from tidal forces, as has Europa. Life may operate at a slower pace in a cold environment, but the right catalysts could improve this.

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869720)

I assume then that the interior of the sun would be a good place to look for life, because of all the heat?

You can take anything to extremes and make it silly.

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (1)

m0n0RAIL (920043) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870522)

You can take anything to extremes and make it silly.

Indeed - but a reductio ad absurdam is most effective when the initial premise (in this case that more heat is good) is false. I'm not disputing that life could exist on Venus though since it also has usable temperature gradients, as evidenced by its weather. However we're better off looking for life on a planet or moon that doesn't destroy spacecraft within an hour of their landing on the surface, which Venus does.

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31870636)

I assume then that the interior of the sun would be a good place to look for life, because of all the heat?

You can take anything to extremes and make it silly.

I mean, just look at all the heated flame wars on this forum. That would imply lots of advanced intelligent life here...

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (2, Interesting)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870856)

Is it silly? If variable self-replicating patterns can be generated by plasma, you'd have the prerequisites for evolution even in the center of the sun.

Re:What's the temperature Kenneth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31869726)

Titan may be geologically active in certain areas. This would supply heat. There are tantalising clues that the moon is geologically active.

Born On Board (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31869080)

"They're Everywhere!"

"I'm outta ammo!"

Life did not originate in this pond... (1)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869132)

That life did not evolve in this pond but adapted from elsewhere is even more remarkable. On Titan natives wouldn't exactly be hardy adapted 'extremeophiles' anymore, any life would have evolved there, and be even more suited to it's environment.

So that density of biomass could be greater, Titan could be a living soup planet. There's a small issue of temperature, if someone could please clarify, chemistry is going to work is a little different at -230 c compared to more than +100c, IANAC but chemical energy may not be available to life or happen at slower rates.?

The lake *is* alive and it's not happy. (4, Interesting)

w0mprat (1317953) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869174)

This is a quote from a tourist some time before the article:

"Unlike a sterile and lifeless parking lot, you soon get a sense here that this lake is somehow alive. Roy said that a forty foot by forty foot hole completely fills itself in within 3 days."

"The lake is constantly pulling things into itself, almost like a slow motion black hole. It's supposed to have "feelers" stretching outward for several miles, additional veins of pitch which stretch out from the main lake."

"this photo of him peeling back the hardened skin of the lake."

"The lake seemed to me more than anything to be like a large creature with no face, only arms and guts in which it slowly swallowed everything around it."

"If it swallows some things, then it also spits others out"

"Here is some leaf litter from part of the forest floor which the lake swallowed, chewed around for a few years and then spat out as indigestible. These leaves were in perfect condition, but as dry as it's possible to imagine."

So it seems to be a living entity, demonstrably fussy, finding it a hard time getting a decent meal and likely depressed.

http://www.richard-seaman.com/Travel/TrinidadAndTobago/Trinidad/PitchLake/ [richard-seaman.com]

Re:The lake *is* alive and it's not happy. (3, Funny)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869630)

So it seems to be a living entity, demonstrably fussy, finding it a hard time getting a decent meal and likely depressed.

Hmmm... In that case, I wonder what its /. UID is?

Re:The lake *is* alive and it's not happy. (2, Interesting)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869754)

Sounds uncomfortably close to the living ocean on Lem's Solaris. Did he report strange visions of his dead wife or something like that?

Re:The lake *is* alive and it's not happy. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869908)

"this photo of him peeling back the hardened skin of the lake." "The lake seemed to me more than anything to be like a large creature with no face, only arms and guts in which it slowly swallowed everything around it." "If it swallows some things, then it also spits others out"

Hey, somebody warm Denise Crosby not to visit this lake. We might still avert that misfortune [nocookie.net] !

Or maybe the Horta from STTOS (1)

wrencherd (865833) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870186)

If this is true: "respiring with metals", then it seems more like just a few evolutionary steps to the Horta [nocookie.net] as in"Devil in the Dark" [wikipedia.org] from the original series.

(But then my understanding of the term "respiration" has probably been impoverished by watching too much sci-fi tv.)

Re:The lake *is* alive and it's not happy. (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870170)

It's sad that the people who shed it off to ascend to an energy level aren't around any more. Don't send Marina Sirtis or Denise Crosby to Trinidad!

life (1)

f3r (1653221) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869422)

I bet that in a thousand years from now we will consider life as anything having a)enough presence of nonequilibrium thermodynamics states, and b)the ability to perform universal computation (either classical or quantum, or maybe another yet undiscovered more general thing). This could include, as foreseen by Asimov, lakes of superconducting metals in remote planets. Will vegetarianism in the future include moral attitudes for superconducting helium inside high field magnets? Will we see an invasion of Earth by superconducting metal intelligent beings on a hunt-those-superconducting-torturers/bastards?

Maybe in Pluto there is a colony of intelligent robots (which communicate through gravity waves, i.e. civilizations withouth a theory of quantum gravity wouldn't detect their communications) and they are waiting for our civilization to build enough autonomous electronic components, so that at a given point they will send a signal/virus, take control of all our electronic infracstructure and take on planet's control. The threats of civilization always come from possibilities that we weren't able to imagine.

Re:life (1)

DissociativeBehavior (1397503) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869564)

Transformers movies are pure fiction you know

Of course.... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 4 years ago | (#31869916)

(extremophile evolved from life developed in mild, favorable environment) != (extremophile evolved in extreme environment)

But it IS great news, and is at least 'proof of concept' as to the sustainability of life in extreme conditions, even if ultimately we discover that life needs a perfect little petri dish of conditions to get STARTED.

Old news (1)

Parlett316 (112473) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870092)

We have all known there has been life on Titan since Iron Man #55.

The Pitch lake is not noxious and foul smelling (4, Informative)

Gel214th (827454) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870120)

It is actually a tourist attraction.

Countries such as Germany mandate that their roads, the famous Autobahn, must constitute a certain percentage of pitch from Trinidad. The Asphalt from the pitch lake is internationally acclaimed for its high percentage of asphalt resins and world renowned for its quality.It is also the world's largest and most consistent deposit of natural asphalt.

It is used in New York's Kennedy and La Guardia airports,to line the George Washington Bridge,and as previously stated in the German Autobahn system to name a few.

In the face of all this the cavalier and in some sense derogatory terminology used by the poster is both unfortunate and inaccurate. One suspects the author has never actually visited the Pitch Lake in Trinidad. It doesn't smell, it is not filled with noxious fumes. The area is quite pleasant and forested.

The pitch lake represents a little understood and fascinating eco-system, and it's great that it is finally being researched. It is incredible when one imagines how much of our past can be found in its depths,claimed from the earth tens of thousands of years ago, resting somewhere within it.

screw titan (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870188)

harness these guys for toxic superfund site clean ups, oil spills, etc

sprinkle a little of this dioxin-b-gone on the brownfields, and voila!: strip mall and mcmansion ready building lots

di34 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31870318)

Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago (4, Informative)

steveb3210 (962811) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870368)

"Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago" There are two islands. Trinidad. and Tobago. And the country is Trinidad and Tobago. But its not just one island.

Told you so. (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870526)

Wanna know how you can recognize someone who thinks he is an expert, but isn’t?
If he considers water or oxygen essential for life, that’s someone like that.
Remember that life on earth also started out with neither. We’re basically built of, consuming and endlessly recycling the poop of earlier organisms... and luckily our own poop feeds them again. (This only does sound nasty to us humans.)

It's not that bad (1)

yamfry (1533879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31870668)

When I was a child we lived in Trinidad for a few years. The Pitch Lake isn't really as bad as the article makes it sound. It doesn't smell. You won't die from noxious fumes by going near it. You can even take tours and walk out into the lake if you want. There are some areas that are solid pitch and other areas that you will sink into and die if you try to walk on them. There are guides who know (hopefully!) where it is safe to walk. It's a pretty cool place to visit if you get the chance.
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