Courtesy of Emanuele Kuhn, Desert Research Institute, Reno, NevadaThe super salty waters of Lake Vida in Antarctica have been isolated from the surface by a thick layer of ice for nearly 3,000 years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t harbor a diverse array of microbial life. Drilling through the ice and taking samples of the water below, microbial environmentalist Alison Murray of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, and her colleagues found troves of metabolically active microbes in the oxygen-free, very salty water, or brine.
“Lake Vida is not a nice place to make a living in,” coauthor Peter Doran of the University of Illinois at Chicago told Nature. “It is quite remarkable that something wants to live in that cold, dark, and salty environment at all.”
The findings, published yesterday (November 26) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, push the boundaries of the extreme conditions that can support life on Earth, the authors said. Having been isolated from external carbon sources for thousands of years, the microbes appear to have found new ways to generate energy, including interacting with the underlying sediment to produce molecular hydrogen, which is known to support certain bacterial life in deep gold mines.
“For sure, there is a lot of energy in the brine,” Murray told Nature. “Carbon may be the primary energy source, but hydrogen may be vital to sustain the lake’s microbial life in the long-term.”